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17 February 2016updated 09 Sep 2021 1:46pm

My job is to protect and promote your IP

Knowledge and intellectual property can help the UK become the most advanced digital economy in the world.

By Ed Vaizey

I am proud of the UK’s strengths in creativity, technology and innovation. Our economy benefits from the knowledge we have, the technologies we create and the creativity which goes into our cultural sectors. So while it is my job to promote this, it is also my job to protect it.

With world-renowned industries in the arts and sciences, and cutting-edge research and technologies, it is no wonder the UK is a target for those who want a piece of our success. Our intellectual property (IP) is valuable: IP-intensive industries generated an estimated 27 per cent of UK employment (7.8 million people) and 37 per cent (£512bn) of UK GDP in 2010. Whether it is online piracy, websites selling counterfeits or cyber attackers seeking to steal commercial secrets, it is vital that government and industry work together to counter the threat.

The scale of the threat is significant: 60 per cent of small businesses and 81 per cent of large organisations reported an information security breach in the past year. The average cost of the worst breaches runs into hundreds of thousands of pounds, sometimes millions for the larger firms. The threat comes from a wide range of actors, including criminals, hacktivists and state-sponsored groups. Although many cyber attacks are opportunistic and rely on the exploitation of poor IT set-ups and processes, there is also an advanced, persistent threat where sophisticated tools are being used for industrial espionage and to steal commercial secrets and IP. UK firms invest an estimated £127bn in knowledge assets, compared to £88bn in tangible assets, so it’s easy to see how valuable this area is to our economy.

The news over recent years is littered with examples of stolen information, data assets and IP, with organisations as diverse as banks, public institutions, online retailers and manufacturers being targeted. Even well-known firms such as Google, Adobe and Yahoo! have not been immune.

This is why the government is investing £860m in the National Cyber Security Programme, a five-year plan to protect and promote the UK in cyberspace. We’re working with industry to raise awareness of the threat and encourage businesses to take action to protect themselves. The government’s Ten Steps to Cyber Security guidance shows how organisations can manage cyber risk and protect their valuable assets, such as IP.

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As a result of our work, many businesses in different sectors of the economy have become aware of the threat and are now responding well to the challenge. Our cyber health check of FTSE-350 firms showed 62 per cent of companies think their board members are now taking the cyber risk very seriously, and 60 per cent understand what their key information and data assets are. I recently launched a cyber security training package at the Law Society to provide professionals in the legal and accountancy sectors with the necessary cyber skills. We are also working to address the cyber threat with other sectors such as retail and finance.

The best thing businesses can do to protect themselves and their valuable IP is to understand their assets. Cyber Essentials, the new government-backed and industry-supported scheme, shows businesses how they can get the basics right and protect themselves against the most common cyber threats. The government is encouraging small and large businesses right across the economy to adopt Cyber Essentials and we now require suppliers who provide certain ICT products to hold Cyber Essentials certification. Certification allows organisations to display the Cyber Essentials badge, which demonstrates to customers and clients that they take cyber security seriously.

And this last point is key: it is important we see technology and security as an enabler, rather than merely a threat. As well as protecting assets and IP, good cyber security can boost reputations and provide a competitive selling point. And we see this more widely in how businesses are using technology to innovate and provide new products and services. The UK’s digital sector now employs over one million people. Over the past ten years the ICT sector has grown over three times as fast as the whole economy. And in 2012, the sector contributed 8 per cent (£106bn) to the UK. The protection of our knowledge and intellectual property is absolutely crucial to this success and is a key feature of our work to make the UK the most advanced digital economy in the world.

Ed Vaizey is minister of state at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, with responsibility for digital industries