IP teaching in schools could help spur next generation of innovators, says expert

Out-Law Analysis | 16 Feb 2016 | 5:21 pm | 2 min. read

FOCUS: A government initiative aimed at educating school pupils in England about intellectual property (IP) rights can help spur the next generation of innovators.

Teaching children to respect the IP of others, and raising their awareness of the wider use of creative outputs can prepare them for careers in innovation or creative industries.

The government recently announced its support for a new 'Think Kit' scheme developed by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). The initiative is aimed at giving "GCSE and NQ students … access to specialised intellectual property (IP) training" through a dedicated package of lesson plans, online courses and guidance that teachers can use in classes such as business studies, media studies and music.

The Think Kit scheme is to be welcomed, particularly if it can help pupils "understand the importance of protecting and respecting IP and ... learn about the commercial benefits of IP" as the government has said it will.

Children are growing up in a digital world where they have more access to technology and online content than any generation previous to them. Even in the classroom, pupils of today will be familiar with the use of digital resources.

In this environment there is a moral responsibility upon schools and teachers not to turn a blind eye to copyright infringement, not simply for fear of legal consequences, but on the premise that part of the role of the education system is to convey lessons in citizenship. It is reasonable to expect schools to promote, or at least not tacitly undermine, both respect for the law and legislative framework and respect for creators and innovators and their works.

Despite the creative industries getting better at making legitimate versions of their content more accessible online, research has highlighted that many learners, particularly those at secondary school level, still engage in online practices that might be regarded as unethical.

Some years ago, the now-defunct British Educational Communications and Technology Agency conducted a survey of school pupils and found that half of secondary school students admitted to having downloaded music or videos illegally. Significant numbers of both secondary and primary learners also said at the time that they thought it was OK to copy games and CDs, download music or videos illegally or pass off third party work as their own, or were unsure as to whether such actions were wrong or right.

Schools are inherently involved in the education of IP creators and of users who will be working with IP in their future careers to grow the economy. A respect for creative work of others is thus a part of the citizenship stream of education. 

The IPO's recent 'Think Kit' initiative is a reincarnation of sorts of earlier IP education schemes it has got behind previously. The toolkit can help to convey the messages that everyone can innovate, creativity has value, ownership should be respected and innovation and creativity can be linked to financial reward and are fun and exciting. 

If schools turn a blind eye to the use of third party IP without licence or consent, this could send a confusing message to pupils. They may later face serious consequences for actions such as illegal downloading or peer-to-peer file sharing. In contrast; where education takes place in a context of recognition of and respect for the creative works of others, this sends a positive message to pupils and prepares them for future careers.

Louise Fullwood is an expert in intellectual property law at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.