569. The European Union (EU) is pleased to co-sponsor this agenda item and thanks Japan for having introduced this item. Intellectual property rights (IPRs) play a crucial role in catalysing innovation and creativity, promoting economic growth and development, creating and growing jobs, improving the quality and enjoyment of our lives.
570. Among this multitude of positive contributions, IPRs provide a critical conduit for inclusiveness in local and global trade. In particular, IPRs help micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) to channel the potentially boundless contributions of a wide array of innovators and creators in different economic sectors and from diverse communities. IPRs also enable MSMEs to spur innovation and creativity, to structure partnerships, and to join global value chains.
571. The key role of intellectual property in the success of start-ups and innovative SMEs has long been recognized. It allows innovative businesses to profit from the results of their creativity, inventiveness and R&D investments, and creates an incentive for further investment in innovation.
572. The European institutions have a number of initiatives in the area of intellectual property to support MSMEs. The support the EU institutions provide to MSMEs improves their competitiveness and economic performance, mainly through the better management of their IP portfolio.
573. Among other activities of the EU and its Members, the EU aims at providing information and support for MSMEs through the IPR SME Helpdesk programme which encourages MSME participation in an open international trade framework. There are three IPR SME Helpdesks that were set up and funded by the EU in different regions of the world. The Helpdesks provide European MSMEs with free, practical, business advice relating to IPR in these regions. More specifically, the Helpdesks:
a. Provide free information and services in the form of jargon-free first-line confidential advice on intellectual property and related issues, plus training, materials and online resources.
b. They raise awareness about IPR matters in the three regions that affect European MSMEs, enabling them to make informed decisions.
c. The services are available to all EU MSMEs, and the Helpdesks are working closely with European MSME networks, chambers of commerce and industry associations to provide advice on IP and related issues.
d. The Helpdesks also produce industry and business-focused materials and training tools (e.g. IP specific guides, Country IP factsheets, industry specific guides etc.) that address IPR issues.
e. Training events and webinars are another important services offered by the three IPR SME Helpdesks.
574. There are also various other initiatives at EU, national and local level to raise awareness on IP, but the challenge is to ensure messages are streamlined, easily accessible and that they address the real business needs of innovative MSMEs. The European Commission services, in partnership with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), are trying to streamline European IP awareness schemes for MSMEs and support exchange of best practices through an EU coordination platform. This involves the development of a common portal, and in the future of common materials for information and training, and of common training of trainers.
575. Awareness actions are complemented with more concrete actions to support MSMEs in the access and use of IP. Some EU Members provide individualised advice on the IP potential of a firm's intellectual assets within its specific market context. These services, known as IP pre-diagnostic services, can be particularly effective as a way of helping MSMEs both to assess the value of their intellectual assets and to include IP in their business strategy.
576. The EU Commission services finance a project of IP pre-diagnostic services to be implemented in a coordinated manner with EU Members, the EUIPO and other relevant European IP stakeholders. It builds on existing experience, but comprises a more thorough coverage of such services across the EU, and will systematically consider EU-wide IP rights within the whole IP spectrum.
577. In particular patents are relatively expensive and the patent system can be complex for MSMEs. Today, protecting an invention throughout the EU's Single Market can be achieved through the European Patent Office, but only at non-negligible cost. Pre-grant costs and patent attorney fees represent an important barrier for MSMEs and start-ups to market their innovative products and services across Europe. In view of these factors, it is not surprising that only 0.3 % of MSMEs currently own European patents.
578. The EU Commission services help selected innovative MSMEs and start-ups that want to patent in Europe using European patents. A pilot project was launched to finance innovative MSMEs requesting and being granted patents. The subsidies cover 50 % of the pre-grant costs for European patents as well as a part of attorney fees. This supports innovative MSMEs in the early years of developing their innovative products by significantly reducing patent costs. This in turn should facilitate their access to finance and investment.
579. Also, alternative, lighter and faster methods of solving legal disputes – namely through arbitration and mediation – can be very useful for MSMEs as an alternative to litigation in court, if such arbitration and mediation can be provided at an affordable cost. These methods also allow for more proportionate settlements than simple out of court bilateral agreements, while the involvement of an experienced IP specialist as an independent expert ensures a more equitable outcome.
580. The EUIPO has opened up its mediation service, dedicated so far to disputes in relation to its procedures. It is now open for trademark and design related disputes involving MSMEs. The Commission services intend to encourage the availability of mediation and arbitration services covering the whole spectrum of IP, accessible across the entire EU and designed in an MSME-friendly way. Ideally, they should be available online and potentially through local intermediaries (e.g. chambers of commerce) and should dovetail with broader legal mediation.
581. Many MSMEs suffer from the lack of access to finance. The Commission is also exploring developing for IPR-driven start-ups and SMEs a project to help them use IP to access to finance. The portal would provide information on sources of funding to be able to benefit from personalised IP advice and identify pre-certified experts to provide such advice. The aim is to reduce the costs and raise the quality of advice.
582. The advice should improve MSMEs intangible assets protection and commercialisation perspectives and the portal should help identify public financial guarantees to funding based on IP. Such action to reduce MSMEs risk levels should lead to further financing schemes and should increase the leverage effect of intangible assets for public and private investors.
583. The ability to enforce rights is also essential for IP to keep its value, but MSMEs do not necessarily have the financial or legal means to do so. IP litigation insurance, if it was more broadly available for MSMEs, would allow for the sharing or transfer of the financial burden and risks associated with IP litigation. However, the market for insurance products for IP litigation has, to date, been too limited. The EU Commission services plan to encourage insurance companies to enter this market in respect of EU-wide IP titles once the Unitary Patent is available.
584. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly all SMEs negatively in terms of business activities. It is useful to provide more support for them to preserve valuable entrepreneurial capacity that will help the recovery.
585. For that purpose, the Commission, in respect of a better use of IP by SMEs and researchers, is exploring the means to improve the information systems for SMEs, provide strategic advice to SMEs, help researchers better use IP and facilitate SMEs use of IP to access to finance.
Examples from the EUIPO's programmes to support MSMEs:
586. The EUIPO's actions supporting SMEs are coherent with the Commission's policy on IP.
587. In view of the need to provide more support for SMEs and to use its resources, the EUIPO has developed an SME programme within its new Strategic Plan 2025.
588. Noting the urgency to provide help for SMEs because of the crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the EUIPO has accelerated the deployment of actions of its SME programme.
589. The EUIPO has started a new SME oriented awareness website, which is integrated in the EU Single Digital gateway.
590. This website, the , has a range of initiatives to support small businesses through the COVID-19 crisis. The hub has information on trademarks and designs geared toward businesses. The hub provides MSMEs with trademark and design guides, matches with probono IP advice, a fast-track online registration tool for trademarks and designs, learning resources on the different IP rights, brand building advice and a state of the art e-translation service for MSMEs.
591. The EUIPO together with the Members of the have produced a tool that provides training for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) on the importance of intellectual property (IP) rights.
592. The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) together with the have developed an with the basic information on intellectual property (IP).