European Commission releases new strategy on IP rights

European Union
Due to the growing importance of online activities, the European Commission considered that the existing mix of European and national rules on IP rights needed to be modernised. As a result, on May 24 2010 the commission set out its blueprint for IP rights to boost creativity and innovation within Europe.

The commission released a communication to the European Parliament and other institutions entitled “A Single Market for Intellectual Property Rights”. The commission sees an integrated single market for IP rights as “one of the most concrete ways to release the potential of European inventors and creators and empower them to turn ideas into high-quality jobs and economic growth”.

The communication puts forward the reforms that the commission considers as necessary for the governance of IP rights in Europe in an increasingly online society.

The details of the blueprint are as follows:
  • Patents - the key points that the communication addresses are the creation of unitary patent protection and a unified patent litigation system.
  • Trademarks - the commission considers that the current registration needs to be more effective, consistent and streamlined. With that in mind, it intends to present proposals later in the year to modernise the system at national and EU levels.
  • Copyright - although the substantive scope of copyright law has largely been harmonised across the European Union, rights are still licensed on a national basis. Accordingly, the commission wants to streamline rules on copyright licensing and revenue distribution, which it describes as “one of the most important challenges that must be addressed”. The commission will be submitting a proposal to create a legal framework for the efficient multi-territorial collective management of copyright.
  • Orphan works - the commission wants to create European digital libraries that preserve and disseminate Europe’s rich cultural and intellectual heritage. To facilitate this, it has proposed a new directive on orphan works. Further, it is working towards concluding a memorandum of understanding amongst libraries, publishers, authors and collecting societies to facilitate licensing solutions to digitise and make available out-of-commerce books.
  • IP rights violation and enforcement - the commission has tabled a regulation to reinforce the European Observatory on Counterfeiting and Piracy. This is said to allow the observatory to benefit from the IP expertise of the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market. The commission also proposed to revise the IP Rights Enforcement Directive (2004/48/EC) and adapt it to the challenges of the digital environment.
While the commission is looking to update legislation on IP rights to take account of technological developments, the more contentious part of the proposed reforms is the desire to create a single market where certain rights are still organised on a national basis. A review of the proposal shows that the commission sees the fragmentation of IP rights across the Community as having negative implications for Europe’s growth, job creation and competitiveness and, therefore, is likely to press for an ever more harmonised rights system within Europe.

Robert Lundie Smith, McDermott Will & Emery UK LLP, London

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