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Industrial property rights strategy
The Commission proposes a series of measures aimed at ensuring a high-quality industrial property rights system in Europe. In particular, the Commission recommends stepping up the fight against counterfeiting and piracy, including at international level. It also recommends facilitating access for inventors, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to industrial property rights in order to promote innovation and investment in research and development.
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council and the European Economic and Social Committee of 16 July 2008 “An Industrial Property Rights Strategy for Europe” [COM(2008) 465 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
This Communication presents actions aimed at introducing a high-quality industrial property rights system, which will allow the European Union (EU) to benefit from its potential, to encourage innovation and the transfer of new technologies and knowledge, and to address the challenges of globalisation.
The quality of industrial property rights
The quality of patents in Europe is generally perceived to be high, but stakeholders are concerned about maintaining and improving this quality. The Commission emphasises that it is vital that patents are awarded only where a true inventive contribution is made, because poor quality patents contribute to economic and legal uncertainty. The Commission will launch a comprehensive study on patent quality to analyse the risks of low quality rights and find ways to avoid their presence in Europe. Furthermore, it will analyse the extent of possible problems caused by unused patents.
The Commission also considers that a strong trade mark protection system, that is effective against improper licensing, non-use or unfair use, or infringements, is required. To this end, the Commission will evaluate the overall functioning of Community and national trade mark systems. This study could form a basis for enhanced cooperation between the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM) and national offices.
Innovation support for SMEs
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) frequently decide not to take advantage of industrial property rights, particularly because of the high cost of obtaining them. The Commission intends to take measures in this area. As part of the introduction of the future Community patent, the Commission will explore means of improving access to the system for SMEs.
Improving SME access to patent litigation resolution procedures is also required. There are many possible solutions, in particular the development of litigation insurance and the use of mediation and arbitration. The Commission will explore how mediation and arbitration can be encouraged in the context of ongoing work on an EU-wide patent litigation resolution system.
Moreover, the Commission highlights the importance of helping SMEs to manage their industrial property rights, to enable them to benefit from support ‘tailored’ to their individual needs.
Tackling counterfeiting and piracy
The protection of industrial property rights should be accompanied by measures to tackle counterfeiting and piracy, two phenomena which have negative consequences on growth in the EU and risks for the health and safety of European consumers. The Commission insists on the need to properly apply the Directive on the Enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPRs) and considers that Member States need to put in place criminal law measures.
In addition, the Commission considers that holders of IPRs need to cooperate fully with customs authorities. Such cooperation is one of the pillars of the action plan for an effective customs response to combat counterfeiting and piracy adopted in 2005. A new action plan will be launched soon. Finally, the Commission considers that improving cooperation between the different players concerned is required in order to effectively enforce IPRs. In particular, the Commission will study how collection and documentation of information on illegal activity can be made more effective and how to improve consumer awareness.
The Commission will prepare for the accession of the European Community to the
Singapore Treaty on the Law of Trademarks, adopted in 2006 by the World Intellectual Property Organization(WIPO).This Treaty aims to create an international framework for the harmonisation of administrative trade mark registration procedures. Furthermore, patent law harmonisation at international level could make it easier for European companies to patent their inventions outside the EU. Negotiations for a Substantive Patent Law Treaty are currently underway.
The Commission also highlights the need to enforce IPRs in third countries and announces its intention to conduct a survey of IPR activity outside the EU on a regular basis. The Commission will seek to include this issue in the negotiations of bilateral trade agreements. In addition, the Commission will participate in international discussions aimed at helping developing countries to make the most of their intellectual property rights.
This Communication complements the Communication on the patent system in Europe published in April 2007. It forms part of the framework of the 2008-2010 cycle of the Lisbon Strategy, of which one of the priority action areas is knowledge and innovation.