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Intellectual property

Protection and enforcement of intellectual property are crucial for the EU's ability to stimulate innovation and to compete in the global economy.

Intellectual property rights (IPRs) (such as patents, trademarks, designs, copyrights or geographical indications) enable European inventors, creators and businesses to prevent unauthorized exploitation of their creations, and in return to get compensation for their investment. IPRs also offer guarantees to users (e.g., trademarks and geographical indications identify the origin of the goods concerned).

Trade and intellectual property in a nutshell

  • IPR support creativity and innovation. The EU needs to protect these intangible assets for growth and competitiveness.
  • Enforcement of these rights within the EU and outside affects the EU’s growth and jobs. When the EU’s ideas, brands and products are pirated and counterfeited, EU jobs are affected.
  • Counterfeit products can also risk consumer safety and health. The EU supports strong IPR standards to tackle IPR infringements in the EU and abroad.
  • Right-holders need access to effective ways of protecting their rights internationally. They need a solid and predictable IPR legal framework.

EU trade policy and intellectual property

One of the EU's objectives is to improve the protection and enforcement of IP rights in third countries. This objective is being pursued in different ways:

In addition, the EU conducts different types of support actions:

  • Technical assistance programmes, focusing on IPR or including an IPR component, intended e.g. to help third countries improve their IPR system. Those activities are summarised in the EU's annual submission to the WTO.
  • Support services targeting EU right-holders doing business in or with certain third countries – typically “IPR helpdesks”. For example, The China IPR SME Helpdesk provides information and advice on intellectual property rights (IPR) in China.

Current hot topics in Trade and IPR policy

Links between IPR and development policies

These links are currently being explored in the "Policy Coherence for Development" initiative, with the intention to help developing countries enhance their IPR systems.

Transfer of technology

The EU – including its member states – works to promote technology transfer especially to least developed countries (LDCs). EU/MS actions fostering technology transfer to LDCs are summarised in an annual submission to WTO.

Access to medicines

The EU has consistently led efforts to facilitate access to medicines in developing countries and to strike the right balance between the IP rights of pharmaceutical companies and the need to ensure that medicines are available for populations in need in the developing world.

Geographical indications (GIs)

The EU is firmly protecting geographical indications - distinctive signs used to identify a product as originating in a particular geographical area, where its quality, characteristics or reputation are essentially determined by its geographical origin.