UK: European Commission Unveils New IPR Strategy

Last Updated: 20 July 2011
Article by Jonathan Ball and Laura Mucha


On 24 May 2011, the European Commission issued a press release unveiling a new strategy to revamp the legal framework in which intellectual property rights (IPR) operate. The Commission hopes that the rules under the new strategy will strike the right balance between access to goods and the protection of IPR.

The Commission proposes: (a) an easier licensing system for "orphan works" that will allow many cultural works to be accessible online; and (b) a new regulation to reinforce actions by customs when fighting the trade of goods that infringe IPR.


The Commission statement notes that IPR are a cornerstone of the European economy and a key driver for its further growth. In 2009, the value of the top ten brands in European countries amounted to almost 9% of growth based on GDP. Copyright-based creative industries such as software, books and newspaper publishing, music and film, contributed to 3.3% of the total European GDP in 2006 and also accounted for approximately 1.4 million small to medium enterprises, representing a total of 8.5 million jobs. Similarly, employment in the knowledge economy industries increased by 24% between 1996 and 2006, compared to 6% for other industries.

The IPR strategy sets out a series of key policy actions including:


The Commission will continue to work on proposals for the creation of the unified and specialised patent court for existing European patents and future European patents with unitary effect. The aim is to reduce the cost and time spent in resolving patent disputes as well as increasing legal certainty for business.

Trade marks

The Commission intends to present proposals this year to modernise the trade mark system at both EU and national levels and adapt it to the Internet era.

Geographical indications (GIs)

GIs can secure a link between a product's quality and its geographical origin. There is currently no system available at EU level for the protection of non agricultural products which leads to a non-level playing field. The Commission plans to carry out an analysis of the existing legal framework which may be followed by legislative proposals.

Multi-territorial copyright licensing

Whilst the substantive scope of copyright has been largely harmonised, rights are still licensed on a national basis. In the second half of 2011, the Commission will submit a proposal to create a legal framework for the efficient, multi-territorial, collective management of copyright, in particular in the music sector. The Commission also plans to establish common rules based on transparent governance and revenue distribution. In the second half of 2011, the Commission plans to launch a consultation on the online distribution of audio visual work.

Digital library

In order to facilitate the development of the knowledge economy in Europe through the creation of European digital libraries, the Commission tabled a legislative proposal enabling the digitalisation and online availability of "orphan works". Orphan works are works such as books, newspaper and/or magazine articles that are still protected by copyright but where the rights holders are not known or cannot be located to obtain copyright permission. The Commission hopes to facilitate licensing solutions to digitalise and make available out-of-commerce books.

IPR violations

Piracy and counterfeiting are a growing threat for the European economy - between 2005 and 2009 the number of registered cases of goods suspected of infringing IPR at EU borders almost doubled. The creative industry estimates that in 2008 alone, piracy has cost the European music, movie, TV and software industry around €10 billion and more than 185,000 jobs. The Commission tabled a proposal to enact legislation to enhance the effectiveness of the European Observatory on Counterfeiting and Piracy launched in 2009 and intends to review the IPR Enforcement Directive in 2012 in order to meet the challenges of the digital environment.

IPR enforcement by customs

Customs play an essential part in fighting the trade in goods that infringe IPR. In 2009 alone, customs intercepted over 40,000 suspect shipments involving 118 million products. The Commission proposes a new customs regulation to further reinforce the legal framework for customs' actions and to tackle the trade in small confinements of counterfeit goods sent by post. Currently the majority of these goods result from internet sales.

Conclusion and implications

The Commission's strategy should be good news for business and should help facilitate the fight against infringement of IPR, including counterfeit and pirated goods. The strategy is very broad in scope, seeking as it does to encompass the full spectrum of IPR from patents through to digital copyright. How realistic the aims are, however, remains to be seen.

Some critics argue that the strategy, and in particular the increased rights of customs to inspect small confinements, is at odds with the burgeoning privacy laws in Europe.

It is essential that the European IPR legal framework is kept up to date with developments in counterfeiting, technology and the Internet. This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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