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Patents and standards

Patents and standards

Standardisation based on patent-protected technologies is a key contributor to industrial innovation and competitiveness. The European Commission is examining ways to improve the framework governing the inclusion of patent-protected technologies into standards and to facilitate the licensing process for these technologies.

What is the relationship between patents and standards?

Patents provide incentives for research and development, and facilitate knowledge transfers. Standards ensure the rapid diffusion of technologies and the interoperability between products.

Many standards are based on patented technologies. For example, the mobile telecommunications industry is driven by a heavy reliance on standardisation, which is made up of a great number of innovations protected by patents. 2G (GSM), 3G (UMTS), 4G (LTE) and WiFi networks rely on hundreds of patented technologies to work. Consumer electronics, the automotive industry and the electricity grid industry are other sectors in which patent-based standardisation is particularly important.

Organisations engaged in standard setting have developed rules and practices to ensure the efficient licensing of patents that are essential for their standards ('standard-essential patents'). This licensing is key to the success of the standard involved. It helps to achieve broad and rapid diffusion of innovation and to give patent holders an adequate return on investment in research and development (R&D). It also gives all users of the standard fair access at a reasonable cost.

What the Commission is doing

To ensure that Europe is well positioned in today’s competitive global environment, the Commission works towards a smooth and balanced functioning of the system for standards that comprise patent-protected technologies. This includes removing unnecessary barriers in the market for the licensing of standard-essential patents.

Studies to assess the interplay between standardisation and patents

In December 2016, the European Commission published two studies on standard essential patents (SEPs). The first study evaluates issues and solutions related to SEPs and the standardisation process. It also covers standardisation challenges in the Internet of Things industries. The second study provides statistical evidence on the importance of SEPs on key technologies in Europe.

These studies are part of the Commission's work to build on the existing IPR framework to enable easy and fair access to SEPs as described in the 2016 Communication, 'ICT Standardisation Priorities for the Digital Single Market'.

Public consultation on patents and standards

From October 2014 to February 2015, the Commission held a Public consultation on patents and standards. This consultation allowed stakeholders interested in standards that involve patents to provide their views on:

  • the performance of the current governing framework
  • how the framework should evolve to ensure that standardisation remains efficient and well-adapted to a fast-changing economic and technological environment

Study on patents and standards

In 2013, the Commission undertook a fact-finding study on the issue. The study analyses the rules and practices developed to ensure the licensing of standard-essential patents. It examines barriers to efficient licensing and recommendations from stakeholders on dealing with these barriers.

Patents and Standards: A modern framework for IPR-based standardization, 2014 - Final report (5 MB) and Executive summary (580 kB)

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