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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 unauthorised exploitation of their creations, and to receive compensation for their investment. IPRs also offer guarantees to users or consumers (e.g. geographical indications) to identify the origin of the goods concerned.

Trade and intellectual property in a nutshell

  • IPRs support creativity and innovation. The EU needs to protect these intangible assets for growth and competitiveness.
  • Enforcing these rights within the EU and abroad affects EU growth and jobs. When European ideas, brands and products are pirated and counterfeited, EU jobs are affected.
  • Counterfeit products can also put at risk consumer safety and health. The EU supports strong IPR standards to tackle IPR infringements in the EU and abroad.
  • Rights 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

The EU seeks to improve the protection and enforcement of intellectual property (IP) rights in third countries. It pursues this objective in different ways:

The EU also conducts other support actions as part of its IP Strategy:

  • Technical cooperation programmes. to help third countries improve their IPR systems.
  • Support services for EU rights holders doing business in or with certain third countries – namely the ‘IPR SME Helpdesks’ in China, Latin America and Southeast Asia. IPR SME Helpdesks provide information and advice to SMEs on intellectual property rights (IPR) in these regions. China IPR SME Helpdesk

Current topics in Trade and IPR policy

Links between IPR and development policies

These links are part of initiatives discussed in the TRIPS Council.

Transfer of technology

The EU – including its member states – works to promote technology transfer, particularly to least-developed countries (LDCs). EU/national actions fostering technology transfer to LDCs are summarised in an annual submission to the 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 firmly protects geographical indications – distinctive signs used to identify a product as originating in a particular geographical area. This geographical origin essentially determines the product’s quality, characteristics or reputation.

More on Intellectual Property

Intellectual property rights in other Commission departments
Other resources