The EU Commission published an action pan on Intellectual Property Wednesday, to help smaller firms in particular make the most of their inventions and creations and ensure Europe benefits fully from them.
Intellectual property (IP) is seen as a key driver for economic growth as it helps companies to valorise their intangible assets. The Action Plan aims at enabling the European creative and innovative industry to remain a global leader and at speeding up Europe’s green and digital transitions. In particular, it sets out key steps to improve the protection of IP; to boost the uptake of IP by SMEs; to facilitate the sharing of IP to increase the technological uptake in the industry; to fight counterfeiting and improve the enforcement of IP rights; and to promote a global level playing field. The coronavirus crisis has also highlighted certain dependencies on critical innovation and technologies so the Action Plan addresses these challenges while making sure that critical IP can be made available in time of crisis.
Intangible assets such as brands, designs, patents and data are increasingly important in today’s knowledge economy. IP-intensive industries account for 45% of all GDP and 93% of all EU exports, while the added value of IP is growing across most European industrial ecosystems. Globally, IP filings are on the rise, as intangible assets play an increasing role in the global race for technological leadership.
“Europe is home to some of the world’s leading innovations, but companies are still not fully able to protect their inventions and capitalise on their intellectual property,” said Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton: “Today, we are proposing to overhaul our intellectual property system to strengthen Europe’s ability to develop next generation technologies, reflect advances in data and AI; allow companies to quickly pool their knowledge in times of crisis, and support Europe’s path towards economic recovery and the green transition.”
The new action plan announces measures in five key areas:
1. Improving the protection of IP
The Action Plan proposes to upgrade a series of existing IP tools and make them fit for the digital age, including improving the supplementary protection certificates (SPC) for patented medicinal and plant protection products and modernising EU design protection. It aims at strengthening the protection of agricultural geographical indications (GIs) while considering the feasibility of a GI protection system for non-agricultural products at EU level. The Commission also launches an industry dialogue to address the impact of new technologies (such as AI and block chain) on the IP system. To ensure that companies have access to fast, effective and affordable protection tools and reduce the persisting fragmentation and complexity in the current system, the Action Plan calls Member States for a rapid rollout of the unitary patent system to create a one-stop-shop for patent protection and enforcement across the EU.
2. Boost the uptake of IP by small and medium-sized companies (SMEs)
European innovators and creators, in particular SMEs, are often not aware of the benefits of integrating IP in their business strategy. For instance, only 9% of SMEs file for IP protection. To help smaller companies capitalise on their intangible assets, the Commission proposes measures to improve information and advice. It will help coronavirus-affected SMEs better manage and leverage their IP portfolios via a new financial assistance scheme with € 20 million provided from EUIPO funds for the first year. The Commission will also make IP advice and help available to all participants of EU funded research and innovation programmes and work with all stakeholders to improve the valorisation of IPR across the R&I community. It also acts to make it easier to use IP as a lever for access to finance.
3. Facilitate the sharing of IP
The Action Plan aims to protect intangibles but also seeks to improve access to critical intangibles on which our economy and society hinges. Recognising the important role the IP system can play in tackling health emergencies, such as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Commission proposes measures to facilitate the sharing of critical IP in times of crisis, whilst ensuring return on investment. The Commission will also work on an improved copyright infrastructure, take action to better mobilise IP-protected data. It will also propose ways to improve transparency and predictability in the licensing of standard-essential patents (SEPs) as these are key element for the digital transformation of Europe’s industry, such as the roll out of connected cars and other IoT products.
4. Fight counterfeiting and improve enforcement of IP rights
The import of counterfeited and pirated goods amounts to 6.8% of EU GDP. The Commission will improve an effective and balanced enforcement of IP rights. For instance, as a complement to the upcoming Digital Services Act package, it will establish an EU anti-counterfeiting toolbox to promote and facilitate effective cooperation between IP right holders, intermediaries (such as online market places) and law enforcement authorities, mainstream best practice and the use of adequate tools and new technologies.
5. Promote a global level playing field
While IP rights-intensive industries account for 93% of EU goods exports, our businesses still face great challenges when operating in third countries. To address these challenges, the Commission aims to strengthen the EU’s position as a global standard-setter in IP. It will also step up the EU response to unfair practices committed by third country players, such as industrial espionage or attempts to misappropriate IP in the context of R&D cooperation.