Europe’s IPR rules need to be strengthened to ensure they meet current and future challenges, explains Marion Walsmann

Creating a well-functioning, strong and effective system for the protection of IPR is a win-win for the single market and for European citizens, argues German EPP MEP
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By Marion Walsmann

Marion Walsmann (DE, EPP) is Rapporteur for the report on an IP action plan to support the EU’s recovery and resilience

13 Oct 2021

Intellectual property (IP), such as patents, designs, trademarks, geographical indications and trade secret protection rules help companies protect and commercialise their intangible assets and provide them with a source of competitive advantage.

The European Commission’s Action Plan on IP published in November last year supports a strong IP framework and outlines the existing challenges. It is a solid starting point for the European Parliament to work on the upcoming legislative proposals on IP rights. 

“Filing a single application, rather than numerous national procedures, and obtaining a single patent that is valid throughout Europe will dramatically simplify the patent application process and greatly reduce corresponding costs”

Intellectual property rights (IPR) are essential to innovation. Without innovative solutions, we would not be able to meet the challenges we are currently facing in the EU now and also in the future. IPR needs to be strengthened in order to be able to develop next-generation technologies.

It is through the exploitation of these rights that medicines, vaccines for existing and future diseases, as well as innovations in digital and environmentally friendly technologies can emerge. This will benefit not only European businesses but also European citizens. 

Companies that protect their intellectual property grow faster, are more competitive and resilient to economic downturns and can provide better quality jobs and higher wages. IPR-intensive industries account for 93 percent of EU goods exports, while 45 percent of the EU’s total economic activity is attributable to IPR-intensive industries, worth an estimated €6 trillion. Using intellectual property rights can help businesses - particularly in post-COVID-19 times - get back on their feet. However, only about 9 percent of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across Europe use such rights.

Therefore, greater support for Europe’s SMEs is needed in order for them to fully protect their inventions and help them make the best use of their intellectual property through advice, financial resources and user-friendly filing systems.

The unitary patent will bring an immense administrative simplification and cost savings for all companies, including SMEs. The European patent with unitary effect, implemented by a so-called “enhanced cooperation” of the 25 participating Member States, provides a tremendous European added-value.

Filing a single application, rather than numerous national procedures, and obtaining a single patent that is valid throughout Europe will dramatically simplify the patent application process and greatly reduce corresponding costs. Pricey parallel lawsuits would also be prevented by the Unified Patent Court, while legal certainty would be increased. 

For these reasons, all Member States involved in the enhanced cooperation should increase their efforts to ratify the Agreement on the Unified Patent Court, so that the unitary patent package can finally enter into force. In addition, those Member States not yet participating should be encouraged to do so. 

Creating a strong IP framework also means that IPR protection must be significantly improved. It is not enough to update existing legislation on IPR; we also need to enhance the enforcement of these rights. IPR infringements, such as counterfeiting and piracy, are serious issues.

Between 2013 and 2017, counterfeit goods led to the direct loss of approximately €50bn and approximately 416,000 jobs. This doesn’t just have a negative impact on businesses; it also impacts on citizens, as counterfeit products can pose significant risks to the health and safety of citizens, as, for example in the case of counterfeit COVID face masks. 

“Creating a well-functioning, strong and effective system for the protection of IPR is a win-win for the single market and for European citizens. We must, and should, support this”

In addition, counterfeit products are often linked to organised crime. It is all the worse that brand and product piracy are rarely detected and are regarded as trivial offenses. Therefore, there needs to be increased cooperation between national enforcement authorities including the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol), the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation (Eurojust) and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) to make detection and punishment more efficient.

At the same time, Member States should provide effective and deterrent sanctions for producing and distributing counterfeit goods. Finally, technologies such as AI and blockchain should be used more widely in the detection of counterfeits.

Furthermore, the protection of geographical indications for agricultural products, food, wines and spirits should be strengthened and its enforcement modernised and optimised. There should also be an EU sui generis protection created for non-agricultural products, such as handicrafts, to ensure that the know-how of local producers - and thus part of Europe’s cultural heritage - can be protected throughout Europe.

This protection would not only strengthen micro-enterprises and SMEs, but also development and tourism in rural regions and can therefore also help the EU´s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

Strong and efficient IPR protection is essential for incentivising research and the production of innovative products; any weakening of these rights will therefore hinder the development of companies and negatively impact the single market, while at the same time limiting consumer access to innovative and safe products. Creating a well-functioning, strong and effective system for the protection of IPR is a win-win for the single market and for European citizens. We must, and should, support this.

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