- Trade topics
- Intellectual property
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:
- Commercial-scale piracy and counterfeiting harm the sales of EU exporters.
- IPRs support creativity and innovation. The EU needs to protect these intangible assets for growth and competitiveness.
- Enforcing IPRs within the EU and abroad protects EU growth and jobs. When European ideas, brands and products are pirated and counterfeited, EU jobs are affected.
- Counterfeit products can put at risk consumer safety and health, and can harm the environment. 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 legal framework on IPR.
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:
- An effective enforcement regime: The EU has adopted a revised Strategy for the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights in Third Countries. It includes specific measures to address IPR protection and enforcement problems affecting European businesses trading and investing abroad.
- Multilateral agreements: The EU is part of the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization, to help improve the protection and enforcement of IP rights. The EU is a key supporter of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
- Bilateral trade agreements: The EU negotiates and has already concluded a series of bilateral trade agreements, which include comprehensive IPR chapters. As far as possible, the IPR chapters should offer similar levels of protection to that of the EU. Yet the EU does take into account the level of development of the country concerned.
- Other bilateral activities: The Commission engages in regular meetings on IP matters (such as IP Dialogues, IP Working Groups, etc.) with priority partner countries around the world.
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 Helpdesk, in China, Latin America and Southeast Asia. IPR SME Helpdesks provide information and advice to SMEs on intellectual property rights (IPR) in these regions.
Enforcing intellectual property rights in EU trade policy
The EU's current strategy to enforce intellectual property rights in non-EU countries has been in place since 2014. The objective is to promote better intellectual property standards in non-EU countries and stop trade in IPR-infringing goods.
The Commission regularly conducts surveys on the enforcement of intellectual property rights. The report gives EU rights' holders information on the effectiveness of IPR regimes in countries outside the EU.
It also lets rights holders improve their business strategies and operations to protect their intellectual property. They can better manage risk around their IPRs when doing business in, or with, certain non-EU countries.
This assessment also helps the EU define certain countries where the protection and/or enforcement of intellectual property are detrimental to EU interests.
The report also benefits non-EU country authorities' understanding of the perception of EU users of their IPR systems, particularly potential areas for improvement.
Counterfeit and Piracy Watch-List
The EU's Counterfeit and Piracy Watch-List helps identify the marketplaces outside the EU where counterfeiting, piracy or other forms of intellectual property abuse are common practice.
Current topics in trade and Intellectual property rights policy
Intellectual property rights 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
- Enterprise and Industry:
- Taxation and Customs Union:
- Business initiatives: React; BASCAP
- The European Patent Office (EPO)
- European Parliament:Committee on international trade (INTA)
- Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD): Project on counterfeiting and privacy
- The Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM)
- The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO); WIPO international IPR treaties; Guide about setting up IPR services
- World Trade Organisation (WTO); Agreement On Trade-Related Aspects Of Intellectual Property Rights
Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights
Regulation 386/2012 set up the European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights.
Joint reports from the EU's Intellectual Property Office and the OECD:
- Mapping the Real Routes of Trade in Fake Goods (2017)
- Infringements on European Geographical Indications (2016)