European Commission sounds new patent offensive
Following the April 2007 initiative on "Enhancing the patent system", the European Commission has now published a communication on a European industrial property rights strategy (PDF). It hopes this will improve access to the patent system and to trademark protection for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The Commission has also announced that it intends to work harder on ensuring the quality of patents granted and the promotion of innovation associated with it.
In the paper, the Commission states that, "A clear regime for intellectual property rights is an essential condition for the single market and in making the "fifth freedom", the free movement of knowledge, a reality." The commission notes that intellectual property rights, such as patents, allow newcomers to enter the market, as they help companies to obtain venture capital and license products to existing players. The patent quality offensive is necessary, says the commission, as large numbers of overlapping claims can present obstacles to the commercialisation of new technologies. In the US, the granting of low quality patents has already led to problems with "patent trolling" – speculative registration of broad patents purely to allow legal action. In Europe the number of patent applications is also on a steady upward slope. The Commission is therefore planning to run a "comprehensive study" on patent quality and study the extent of possible problems with unused patents, including evaluating their causes and suggesting remedies.
The Commission hopes to prevent "patent ambushes" where the owner of intellectual property makes excessive demands following the adoption of an 'open' standard for intellectual property contained within the standard. It believes there should therefore be rules within standardisation organisations that essential patent applications, or patents already granted, should be disclosed in advance and should be licensed on "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND)" terms. The Commission is planning to carry out an internal consultation process on standards in the area of information and communications technology until early 2009.
In the fight against piracy, the Commission is promising effective application of the directive on better civil enforcement of intellectual property rights, better sharing of information between owners of intellectual property and customs authorities and a new action plan against counterfeit goods. This year a joint action plan with Chinese customs authorities is to be drawn up. There will be measures to improve popular awareness of the damage caused by counterfeiting and piracy. The Commission also plans to work towards an agreement between ISPs, service providers and other industries to "reduce the internet traffic related to piracy and the selling of counterfeit goods."