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EC sets out IP blueprint

May 24, 2011

By Colin Mann

As part of a drive to boost creativity and innovation, the European Commission (EC) has adopted a comprehensive strategy to revamp the legal framework in which IPR operate. Its objective is to enable inventors, creators, users and consumers to adapt to the new circumstances and to enhance new business opportunities. The new rules aim to strike the right balance between promoting creation and innovation, in part by ensuring reward and investment for creators and, on the other hand, promoting the widest possible access to goods and services protected by IPR.

The EC suggests that getting this balance right will make a real difference to businesses (from the individual artist working alone to the big pharmaceutical companies) by encouraging investment in innovation. This will benefit the EU’s growth and competitiveness which is delivered through the single market. Consumers will benefit from wider and easier access to information and cultural content, for example online music. The strategy deals with many issues to ensure IPR are covered comprehensively – from the patent a business needs to protect an invention to tackling the misuse of such inventions via a proposal also adopted today which will strengthen action on counterfeiting and piracy. Among the first deliverables of this IPR overall strategy are today’s proposals for an easier licensing system for so-called ‘orphan works’ that will allow many cultural works to be accessible online, and for a new regulation to reinforce customs actions in fighting trade of IPR infringing goods.

“Ensuring the right level of protection of intellectual property rights in the single market is essential for Europe’s economy. Progress depends on new ideas and new knowledge,” said Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier. “There will be no investment in innovation if rights are not protected. On the other hand, consumers and users need to have access to cultural content, for example online music, for new business models and cultural diversity to both thrive. Our aim today is to get the balance between these two objectives right for IPR across the board. To make Europe’s framework for intellectual property an enabler for companies and citizens and fit for the online world and the global competition for ideas.”

Algirdas Šemeta, Commissioner responsible for Customs said: “Customs are ideally placed at the border, to protect citizens and legitimate businesses and their contribution is highly valuable in fighting counterfeiting and piracy”. He added: “I am convinced that a robust system of intellectual property rights is essential for the whole EU economy. With today’s proposal, customs will be able to provide greater protection for IPR and to better tackle the trade in IPR infringing goods.”

The IPR Strategy sets out a series of short- and long-term key policy actions in various areas which include:

Patents: the Commission already launched proposals in April for a unitary patent protection under enhanced cooperation. Meanwhile, work will continue on proposals relating to the creation of a unified and specialised patent court for the classical European patents and the future European patents with unitary effect. This would considerably reduce litigation costs and the time it takes to resolve patent disputes. It would also increase legal certainty for business.

Trade marks: while trade mark registration in the EU has been harmonised in Member States for almost 20 years and the Community trade mark was established 15 years ago, there is an increasing demand for more streamlined, effective and consistent registration systems. The Commission intends to present proposals in 2011 to modernise the trade mark system both at EU and national levels and adapt it to the Internet era.

Geographical indications (GIs): GIs secure a link between a product’s quality and its geographical origin. However, there is currently no such system available at EU level for the protection of non-agricultural products such as Carrara marble or Solingen knives. This leads to an unlevel playing field in the Single Market. The Commission will therefore carry out an in-depth analysis of the existing legal framework in the Member States as well as the potential economic impact of protection for non-agricultural GIs in 2011 and 2012. Depending on the outcome of an impact assessment, these could eventually be followed up by legislative proposals.

Multi-territorial copyright licensing: While the substantive scope of copyright has been largely harmonised, rights are still licensed on a national basis. In view of the digital Single Market, streamlining copyright licensing and revenue distribution is one of the most important challenges that must be addressed. In the second half of 2011, the Commission will submit a proposal to create a legal framework for the efficient multi-territorial collective management of copyright, in particular in the music sector. It will also establish common rules on the transparent governance and revenue distribution. In the second half of 2011, the Commission will also launch a consultation on the various issues related to the online distribution of audiovisual 540). The Directive provides for civil law measures allowing right holders to enforce their intellectual property rights but should be adapted, in particular to meet the specific challenges of the digital environment.

IPR enforcement by customs: Customs supervise all trade crossing EU external borders: they carry out controls for many purposes and have an essential role in fighting the trade in IPR infringing goods. In 2009 only, customs intercepted over 40,000 suspect shipments involving 118 million articles. Whilst the majority of goods intercepted are counterfeit or pirated, customs’ unique position at the border allows for the enforcement of a wide range of intellectual property rights. As part of today’s overall IPR strategy, the Commission also proposes a new customs regulation, to further reinforce the legal framework for customs’ actions. The proposal also aims to tackle the trade in small consignments of counterfeit goods sent by post as the overwhelming majority of these goods results from internet sales.

The initiative follows the publication in the UK on May 18 of a review on Intellectual Property and Growth by Professor Ian Hargreaves – Digital Opportunity – which addressed many of the same concerns.

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