Stronger intellectual property rights needed to help EU businesses recover from pandemic  

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While intellectual property (IP) registrations are on the rise, the EU patent systems remain fragmented and gaps in enforcement still need to be addressed, remind MEPs.

In a draft report adopted on Thursday (with 21 votes for, 3 against and no abstentions) members of the Legal Affairs committee welcome the aims set out in the Commission’s EU Intellectual Property Action plan and propose a series of recommendations for upcoming initiatives in the field.

MEPs emphasise that strong, robust and balanced IPR protection is particularly important for return on investment and for the economic and social recovery from COVID-19 and other global crisis. The pandemic has illustrated how important effective IP protection rules are to address emergency challenges, such as the deployment of vaccines against COVID-19 and remuneration of workers in the cultural and creative sector. In this context, the Commission should continue to help European companies to innovate and develop key technologies at a global level on a basis of a comprehensive IR regime.

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“Without innovative solutions, we will not be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead. IP rights must be strengthened to develop next-generation technologies. It is through the exploitation of these rights that innovations and technologies, particularly in the health sector, can emerge and benefit European citizens in the first place”, said rapporteur Marion Walsmann (EPP, DE).

“Using intellectual property rights can help businesses impacted by the pandemic get back on their feet. However, only about 9% of SMEs across Europe use such rights. We need to better support SMEs with advice, funding and user-friendly filing systems to fully protect their inventions and make the best use of their intellectual property", she added.

Launching the unitary patent system

When it comes into effect, the unitary patent system will establish a European patent with unitary effect and a new patent court, allowing inventions to be protected in all participating countries by submitting a single patent application. It is a key tool for EU’s industrial recovery and aims to make patenting more effective and less costly for inventors (individuals, companies or institutions) across the EU. MEPs call on the 25 participating member states to quickly ratify the agreement and for those member states not yet engaged to follow suit.

Addressing counterfeiting and piracy

The draft report highlights that in 2016 the import of counterfeited and pirated goods represented EUR 121 billion, or 6,8% of EU imports. Member states, along with the Commission, customs authorities, Europol, Interpol and law enforcement authorities should work together more closely to limit the amount of hazardous products and fight counterfeiting and piracy, especially when organised crime is involved. MEPs also suggest that new technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain could also be used more to help tackle these crimes.

Geographical indications (GIs) for non-agricultural products

MEPs support the Commission’s plan to assess the feasibility of a GI protection system for non-agricultural products in the EU and expect to see a legislative proposal in this regard before the end of 2021 at the latest. Such protection would not only benefit consumers, microenterprises and SMEs, but would also have a positive impact on employment and tourism in rural and less developed areas, helping EU’s recovery after the crisis.

Background

Intellectual property (IP), such as patents, trademarks, designs, copyright, geographical indications, plant variety rights and trade secret protection rules help companies protect and commercialise their intangible assets, fight unauthorised copying by competitors and provide them with a source of competitive advantage. IPR-intensive industries are major components of the EU's industrial ecosystems and increasingly contribute to the EU's economy, with 45% of the total economic activity (GDP) in the EU is attributable to IPR-intensive industries, worth€6 trillion.

While the EU has a strong Intellectual property rights rules, certain challenges like the fragmentation of IP systems, the lack of unitary patents or a unitary supplementary protection certificate (SPC) still need to addressed. The Action Plan presented by the Commission last autumn proposes several updates to the existing EU framework and aims to help companies capitalise on their inventions and creations during the COVID-19 crisis and the digital and green transitions.