Intellectual property rights: strong protection needed for EU social and economic recovery  

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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, according to MEPs.

In a report adopted with 454 votes for, 94 against and 23 abstentions, Parliament assesses the ambitions of the Commission’s EU Intellectual Property Action plan and presents a series of recommendations for upcoming EU initiatives in the field of IP.

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, according to MEPs. The pandemic has illustrated how important effective IP protection rules are to address emergency challenges, such as the deployment of vaccines and remuneration of workers in the creative sector. In this context, the Commission should continue to help European companies innovate and develop key technologies at a global level on a basis of a comprehensive IP regime.

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“Without innovative solutions, we will not be able to meet our objectives under the green and digital transition. Intellectual property rights, like patents and designs, must be better protected to develop next-generation technologies. It is through the exploitation of these IP rights that innovations and technologies, particularly in the health sector, can emerge and benefit European citizens”, said rapporteur Marion Walsmann (EPP, DE).

“Using IP rights can help businesses impacted by the pandemic get back on their feet. However, currently only about 9% of SMEs across Europe use such rights. We need to better support SMEs with advice, funding and user-friendly systems to fully protect their intellectual property rights", 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, which aims to make patenting more effective and less costly for inventors (individuals, SMEs 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 (such as glassware, textiles and industrial goods) 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.

New challenges to IP policy-making

The report also highlights that IP protection related to artificial intelligence (AI) technologies is also crucial and calls for establishing clear criteria for protecting AI-generated inventions. Parliament also encourages member states to transpose the EU Copyright Directive “without delay”.

MEPs highlight the key role IRP plays in incentivising research and protection of innovation products like new medicines and stress how essential equitable distribution of vaccines around the globe is. They therefor urge the Commission and member states to increase efforts in supporting technology transfer and voluntary licensing of IPRs in order to enhance global access to affordable COVID-19-related medical products and address global production and supply shortages.

For a full list of recommendations, read the adopted report here (11.11.2021).

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.