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IP and SMEs

IP and SMEs

Intellectual property (IP) can improve the competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and provide a potential source of revenue. However, SMEs often lack the time, resources, or knowledge to address IP issues. The European Commission aims to help SMEs use IP more effectively by providing a coherent policy of IP support for SMEs, tools such as IP Helpdesks and by regularly monitoring the support available to small businesses.

IP support for SME policy

To help SMEs use IP more effectively, the Commission announced the following measures in the 2020 IP action plan

  • An IP voucher to co-finance 'IP scans' (initial comprehensive and strategic IP advice) and trade mark and design basic registration fees via the Ideas Powered for Business SME fund (applications open as of early 2021)
  • Further roll out the availability of strategic IP advice: making IP scans available to all participants of Horizon programmes and the expansion of this to other EU research and investment programmes (applications open as of early 2021)
  • Pilot strategic advice combined with financial support to develop strategic IP portfolios (applications open as of early 2021)
  • A European IP Information Centre and a simplified trade mark application system for applicants that do not use professional representatives (e.g. SMEs), both provided by the European Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). The information centre will be linked to the 'Single Digital Gateway' and will offer access to all relevant information on IP formalities and related services (e.g. filing for domain name protection, registration of company names).
  • To make it easier for SMEs to leverage their IP when trying to get access to finance, the Commission will discuss with the financial community what IP valuation and capacity building can help them to better take into account SMEs’ intellectual assets. The Commission will test IP evaluation in a broader context in the ‘tech due diligence’ pilot. It will also build upon existing bank guarantee mechanisms, such as the InnovFin SME Guarantee Facility.

The measures for SMEs in the 2020 IP action plan build on the measures outlined in the Staff Working Document of November 2016, 'Putting intellectual property at the service of SMEs to foster innovation and growth' and on the conclusions of the conference 'Innovative, collaborative, regional: Smart intellectual property for a competitive Europe' of November 2019 .

IP support for SMEs

The EU provides five IP helpdesks staffed by experts who can provide free advice and training sessions on IP issues

  • The European IP Helpdesk offers tailored advice to researchers and European SMEs participating in EU-funded research projects and SMEs involved in international technology transfer processes.
  • Four specialised helpdesks support European SMEs in China, IndiaSouth-East Asia and Latin America. These multilingual helpdesks offer free services including confidential first-line advice on registering formal IPRs (such as patents, trademarks or design rights), managing intellectual property as business assets, dealing with intellectual property rights infringements, and the provision of information and training on related topics.

EU SMEs can receive tailored, free-of-charge, first-line IP support to develop their IP strategy. As part of this 'IP scan' service, intellectual property experts look at the company's business model, products and/or services and growth plan, and support it to formulate an IP-strategy from a business perspective. Small businesses will be able to more efficiently manage and valorise their intellectual assets.

The EU offers three such services

  • IP scan in the IP voucher scheme for all EU SMEs (funded at 75%)
  • Horizon IP scan for SMEs participating in collaborative research and innovation projects (funded at 100%)
  • IP pre-diagnostic for SMEs holding a Horizon 'Seal of Excellence' (funded at 100% through the IPA4SME project)

For SME holders of the Horizon 2020 'Seal of Excellence' and other innovative SMEs, IPA4SME will also co-finance their patent fees and patent lawyer costs.

The EUIPO provides an IP information website, which gives access to private pro-bono advice providers and to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms for trade mark related disputes.

Evaluating and monitoring IP use and IP support for SMEs

The Commission analyses policy on IP support and evaluates the effectiveness of support tools. The results of this evaluation can aid the work of public authorities planning to develop IP support services.

IP SME scoreboard

The EUIPO through the European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights monitors the use of IP by SMEs. Every three years it provides the results of a large SME survey, the IP SME scoreboard, on how the EU small businesses rely on IP to protect their intellectual assets.

Expert Group reports

Two expert groups have made recommendations on IP support for SMEs:

The reports stress the need to:

  • provide intellectual asset management skills rather than increase IP rights registration;
  • ensure links between IP specialist support and general business support (e.g. National Intellectual Property Offices and more general innovation support);
  • ensure that support is coordinated at national and EU level;
  • take a client-service attitude towards SMEs.

Evaluation of IPR support for SMEs

  • The IP Helpdesk services were evaluated for their rationale, utility, efficiency and value added. The evaluations highlight the importance of a marketing strategy and forming stronger links with entities closer to SMEs for IP support services. The evaluations contribute to future improvements to the services provided by the helpdesks.
  • The IPorta project (2011-2014) aimed to help SMEs in Europe to use IPR in a more constructive way by improving SME support services provided by national IP offices (NIPOs). A report evaluating the project was produced in January 2015. An executive summary is also available.

Other resources