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:
- An effective enforcement regime: The EU adopted in 2004 a Strategy for the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights in Third Countries defining a broad framework to fight IPR infringement in countries outside the EU.
- Multilateral agreements: The EU is part of the World Trade Organisation and the World Intellectual Property Organisation to improve the protection and enforcement of IP rights. The EU was a key supporter of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs).
- Bilateral trade agreements: The EU is negotiating a series of bilateral trade agreements which aim to include comprehensive IPR chapters. The IPR chapters should as far as possible offer similar levels of IPR protection to that existing in the EU, the EU also aims to take into account the level of development of the countries concerned.
- Other bilateral activities: The Commission engages in regular meetings (such as IP Dialogues, IP Working Groups, etc.) with some priority partner countries around the world on IP matters. Read more on EU IP relations with priority countries.
- Plurilateral agreements: The EU was involved in the development of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement which aimed to help countries work together to tackle large-scale IPR violations more effectively. It was rejected by the European Parliament in July 2012.
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.
More on Intellectual Property
Intellectual property rights in other Commission departments
- Enterprise and Industry:
- Internal Market:
- Taxation and Customs Union:
- Business initiatives: React; BASCAP
- The European Patent Office (EPO)
- European Parliament:Committee on international trade (INTA)
- Interpol: Intellectual property crime and counterfeiting
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD): Project on counterfeiting and privacy
- The Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM)
- United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD): Intellectual Property Programme
- The World Customs Organisation (WCO): The protection of IP rights
- The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO); WIPO international IPR treaties; Guide about setting up IPR services
- World Trade Organisation (WTO); Agreement On Trade-Related Aspects Of Intellectual Property Rights