European Commissioner Reviews IPR Policies

During a speech in Brussels on international trade and intellectual property rights, Karel De Gucht, the European Commissioner for Trade, stressed his commitment to ensure effective protection of those rights both within the European Union (EU) and abroad.

He emphasized that a high standard of intellectual property protection is essential in a knowledge-based economy. In 2009, the value of the top 10 brands in EU countries amounted to almost 9% of gross domestic product (GDP) on average, and employment in ‘knowledge economy’ industries increased by 24% between 1996 and 2006 compared to 6% for other industries.

Within the EU, De Gucht said that rules are needed to promote, rather than inhibit, innovation within the EU. He mentioned the initiatives the European Commission (EC) is taking, such as the unitary EU Patent, which is now close to finalization, and the proposals to revise both the Community Trade Mark Regulation and the Trade Mark Directive. These proposals will aim at simplifying the registration procedure and clarifying the scope of trade mark rights with respect to customs procedures.

In addition, there is a review of the 2004 IPR Enforcement Directive to improve IPR enforcement in the digital environment and to address problems caused by diverging implementation across the EU, and, with regard to copyright legislation, a proposal for a Directive on orphan works and a proposal for multi-territorial copyright licensing.

He pointed out that the internal market proposals are important, not only because they matter to growth in the EU, but also because, in its trade agreements negotiations, they will create leverage in negotiations with third countries, and allow the EU to ask for meaningful protection in third countries for EU industry’s IPR.

It is, he stated, particularly worrying that global IPR infringements seem to be on the rise. He quoted a recent EC report, where “the number of shipments stopped by customs throughout the EU almost doubled compared to last year, rising from 43,500 in 2009 to almost 80,000 in 2010. Infringers are also no longer just targeting luxury goods but are increasingly targeting healthcare and other consumer products.”

While he saw that there is no ‘silver bullet’ to deal with the global challenge to IPR, he looked at a variety of legislative and non-legislative multilateral, plurilateral and bilateral initiatives that the EU is undertaking.

Multilateral initiatives, he confirmed, take place in fora such as the World intellectual property Organization or the World Trade Organization’s ‘TRIPs Council’, while, at plurilateral level, the EU has been one of the leading proponents for the conclusion of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).

The EU is supporting ACTA, not only with such countries as the US and Japan, but also with Mexico, Morocco and Singapore. ACTA’s aim is to improve enforcement mechanisms to help its members to combat IPR infringement more effectively, and, in his opinion, “is born out of the frustration by several countries to see their efforts to improve the protection of IPR systematically blocked at multilateral level”.

On a bilateral level, he added that the EC is engaged in the conclusion of a series of bilateral trade agreements (for example, with Singapore, India, Ukraine and Canada) which aim to include a comprehensive IPR chapter. The free trade agreement concluded with South Korea recently entered into force, and the EU will also soon launch the ratification procedures for bilateral trade agreements with Central America, and with Colombia and Peru.

While the IPR chapters negotiated by the EU should offer, De Gucht concluded, as far as possible, “identical levels of IPR protection to that existing in the EU we are, of course, prepared to take into account the level of development of the countries concerned and adapt our levels of ambitions”.

Ulrika Lomas, LawAndTax-News.com, Brussels