Companies can protect their intellectual property through:
- industrial property rights - patents, utility models, designs, trademarks, plant variety rights, topography of integrated circuits and geographical indications - which have to be registered in each individual EU country (designs and trademarks can also be registered at EU level);
- copyrights - covering original literary and artistic works, music, television broadcasting, software, databases, advertising creations and multimedia - granted automatically, with no need for formal registration;
- commercial strategies - such as trade secrets, know-how, confidentiality agreements or rapid production.
Patents are national rights delivered by the national patent offices. There is no single patent granting protection throughout the EU. A single application for a European patent from the European Patent Office (EPO) provides national protection in those European countries which are members of the EPO, and selected by the applicant. The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) simplifies international application.
Trademark and design rights may be registered at national or Community level. Community rights are registered by the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market, based in Alicante (Spain). These rights are exclusive and valid throughout the EU.
The EU is committed to enforcing intellectual property rights, thus combating counterfeiting and piracy - which have now reached alarming proportions with significant implications for innovation, growth, employment and consumer health and safety. Depending on the EU country legislation and the source of counterfeit goods, the authorities to turn to are: customs, market surveillance (trading standards), the police, or the patent and trade mark offices.
Intellectual property rights are still chiefly protected by national rather than EU laws. Defending them in each individual EU country can be complicated and costly, so further harmonisation is desirable.
Intellectual property rights are governed by international conventions under the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization.
The InnovAccess website provides centralised information about legislation and registration procedures and about support measures at national level.
The European Commission website provides a further list of online resources on IPR.
Check also the legislation on this topic in: