By Jack Ellis
May 01 2012
Last Thursday's World Intellectual Property Day was marked with the official launch of Ideas Matter at Microsoft’s Brussels office. This initiative is the brainchild of a range of multinational corporations, SMEs and trade associations in an effort to counter the growing tide of IP scepticism which, although a global phenomenon, is most marked here in Europe. Importantly, trademarks are seen as playing a vital role in these efforts.
While public and mainstream media attention of IP is dominated by negative stories about multi-billion dollar patent lawsuits and mass protest against anti-counterfeiting treaties, Ideas Matter is focused on highlighting the benefits that IP brings to society and the economy.
Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM) President António Campinos noted that the importance of trademarks to businesses of all shapes and sizes could be discerned by looking at the trademark applications dealt with on a daily basis by OHIM: “Haute couture big brands are vastly outnumbered by small companies with big ambitions that you may never have heard of,” he said.
However, trademarks have all too often seemed to be absent from discussions about the economic benefits or otherwise of IP, with both sides scarcely mentioning them and almost never talking about them in any depth. “That is because the big, controversial debates are on patents and copyrights,” said Ruud Peters, chief IP officer at Philips, which is one of the major backers of the project. “Trademarks and designs are less contentious – but they are equally important. All the IP rights you have at your disposal facilitate the sharing of ideas and innovations – trademarks are the main way in which you communicate with your customers and the market.”
Crucially, Ron Zink, chief operating officer for EU affairs at Microsoft (another corporation that helped to start Ideas Matter) told WTR that he thought that the inconspicuousness of trademarks from the debate about IP scepticism could be an advantage in helping the pro-IP camp get their message across: “Trademarks don’t suffer from the negativity attached to other IP rights – a lot of the animosity is directed towards patents and copyrights.”
In the face of public scepticism over the figures often used by industry to highlight the value of IP, both Peters and Zink believe that Europeans need more than the case studies presented by Ideas Matter to convince them that IP is crucial to economic recovery and prosperity. Referring to the USPTO’s recent study into the link between IP and the economy, Campinos suggested that Europe could only benefit from a similar report. “Frankly we are a long way behind our international competitors,” he said. “In Europe, we spend a lot of time talking about the problems of protecting IP. So why not start off with a positive?” Invoking a cosmological analogy, he said that IP was the ‘dark matter’ of the European economy. “How many jobs does IP create? How much money does IP make? We don’t know. But a similar study for the EU would allow us to answer those questions.”
Perhaps OHIM will take up the challenge of producing a European equivalent to the US study. It remains to be seen whether an EU version can go further than the USPTO effort and actually put some solid figures on the value that trademarks, separately from other IP rights, bring to businesses and to the economy at large – and if it can draw a tangible link between trademarks and innovation. At this stage, however, any research into this area would be welcomed.
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