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Patent systems must be grounded in reality not theory, says Commission

Director of Innovation Policy at the European Commission's Enterprise DG, David White, has called for greater efforts by national governments and EU institutions to help businesses get the most out of the current patent systems in Europe. Speaking at the annual conference of ...

Director of Innovation Policy at the European Commission's Enterprise DG, David White, has called for greater efforts by national governments and EU institutions to help businesses get the most out of the current patent systems in Europe. Speaking at the annual conference of PATLIB, the European network of patent information centres, in Prague on 22 May, Mr White referred to the latest figures from the Community Innovation Survey showing that European businesses, mainly SMEs, are still reluctant to use patents, and prefer to rely on secrecy. 'If companies are reluctant to use a system, we have to ask ourselves, is it because they are unaware of the benefits of the system? Or is it because they are rather more aware of the defects of the system?' he asked. Differences in the cost of patenting and above all lengthy litigation procedures were just some of the 'stumbling blocks' cited by the Director who argued that '[...] if patents litigation cannot in the end be speedily and equitably resolved, what is the value of the right a patent enshrines? 'Intellectual property is protected to serve the public good and the purpose of innovation. We cannot be content with any suggestion that their value depends less on their inherent content, than on the financial muscle of one or other party to litigation,' he added. Mr White went onto say that it was not enough to put instruments in place to help companies protect their intellectual property rights (IPR), but national governments, European institutions and the national patent offices had a greater role to play in changing the situation: 'We also need to make sure that companies understand their strengths and how to use them and when not to use them. To do this, we have to understand the ways companies use the available instruments.' To achieve this, Mr White called on representatives from participating national patent information centres to share examples of how patents are used. 'Practice can be very different from theory,' he said. 'Companies are not necessarily playing the same game as policymakers. It is their game that matters. We need to understand their game. [...] For it is firms that innovate, not bureaucrats!' Mr White outlined the European Commission's IPR initiative which was announced in October 2005, as part of a new industrial policy to create better framework conditions for manufacturing industries in Europe. The initiative is based on a number of building blocks, one is a statistical report on the reasons for companies using or not using intellectual property rights, and possible policy measures in response. 'They will give us insight into different ways patents are used in different sectors; for example licensing with the aid of innovation agencies; seeking partnerships with big partners; or co-ownership of patents by incubators,' he explained. Another part of the initiative is a benchmarking study on publicly-funded IPR support services, which since its launch in January 2006, has already identified 150 support measures used by Member States. 'Now it will assess their efficiency, and identify good practice,' said Mr White. 'All this, we hope, will help us identify where companies experience difficulties, whether government measures address these issues, and where improvement is possible.' At the European level, the Commission will continue to support the work of the well-established IPR Helpdesk which provides free basic assistance to firms, and the network of Innovation Relay Centres, which identify technological needs, and works with the HelpDesk, offering assistance in contractual and intellectual property discussions between potential business partners. Mr White also announced the creation of an additional tool titled 'training the trainers' in IPR support. Led by European Patent Office (EPO), the project will aim at bridging the gap between IP-experts and companies. Mr White concluded by saying the Commission would look to reinforce its cooperation with National Patent Offices, and encourage the development of a network of National Patent Offices, in order to create a 'one-stop-shop' for European enterprises in their own language. The Commission is expected to have IPR policy recommendations drawn up by the end of 2006.

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