European Union - Protecting Intellectual PropertyEuropean Union - IPR
Protecting Your Intellectual Property in the EU:
Several general principles are important for effective management of intellectual property (“IP”) rights in the EU. First, it is important to have an overall strategy to protect your IP. Second, IP may be protected differently in the EU than in the United States. Third, rights must be registered and enforced in the EU under local laws. For example, your U.S. trademark and patent registrations will not protect you in the EU. There is no such thing as an “international copyright” that will automatically protect an author’s writings throughout the entire world. Protection against unauthorized use in a particular country depends, basically, on the national laws of that country. However, most countries do offer copyright protection to foreign works in accordance with international agreements.
Granting patents registrations generally is based on a first-to-file (or first-to-invent, depending on the country) basis. Similarly, registering trademarks is based on a first-to-file (or first-to-use, depending on the country), so you should consider how to obtain patent and trademark protection before introducing your products or services to the EU market. It is vital that companies understand that intellectual property is primarily a private right and that the U.S. government cannot enforce rights for private individuals in the EU. It is the responsibility of the rights holders to register, protect, and enforce their rights where relevant, retaining their own counsel and advisors. Companies may wish to seek advice from local attorneys or IP consultants who are experts in EU law. The U.S. Commercial Service can provide a list of local lawyers upon request.
While the U.S. government stands ready to assist, there is little we can do if the rights holders have not taken these fundamental steps necessary to securing and enforcing their IP in a timely fashion. Moreover, in many countries, rights holders who delay enforcing their rights on a mistaken belief that the U.S. government can provide a political resolution to a legal problem may find that their rights have been eroded or abrogated due to legal doctrines such as statutes of limitations, laches, estoppel, or unreasonable delay in prosecuting a law suit. In no instance should U.S. government advice be seen as a substitute for the responsibility of a rights holder to promptly pursue its case.
It is always advisable to conduct due diligence on potential partners. A good partner is an important ally in protecting IP rights. Consider carefully, however, whether to permit your partner to register your IP rights on your behalf. Doing so may create a risk that your partner will list itself as the IP owner and fail to transfer the rights should the partnership end. Keep an eye on your cost structure and reduce the margins (and the incentive) of would-be bad actors. Projects and sales in the EU require constant attention. Work with legal counsel familiar with the EU laws to create a solid contract that includes non-compete clauses, and confidentiality/non-disclosure provisions.
It is also recommended that small- and medium-size companies understand the importance of working together with trade associations and organizations to support efforts to protect IP and stop counterfeiting. There are a number of these organizations, both EU or U.S.-based. These include:
The U.S. Chamber and local American Chambers of Commerce
National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)
International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA)
International Trademark Association (INTA)
The Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy
International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition (IACC)
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)
Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO)
A wealth of information on protecting IP is freely available to U.S. rights holders. Some excellent resources for companies regarding intellectual property include the following:
For information about patent, trademark, or copyright issues -- including enforcement issues in the United States and other countries -- call the STOP! Hotline: 1-866-999-HALT or visit STOP Fakes
For more information about registering trademarks and patents (both in the United States as well as in foreign countries), contact the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) at: 1-800-786-9199
For more information about registering for copyright protection in the United States, contact the U.S. Copyright Office at: 1-202-707-5959.
For more information about how to evaluate, protect, and enforce intellectual property rights and how these rights may be important for businesses, please visit the “Resources” section of the STOPfakes website.
For information on obtaining and enforcing intellectual property rights and market-specific IP Toolkits visit: STOPfakes Business tools. The toolkits contain detailed information on protecting and enforcing IP in specific markets and also contain contact information for local IPR offices abroad and U.S. government officials available to assist SMEs.
The U.S. Department of Commerce has positioned IP attachés in key markets around the world. Contact information for European based IP attachés in below:
Vacant – contact Dominic Keating
For additional information on Member States’ protection of property rights, please consult the Commerce Department’s Country Commercial Guides of the 28 EU Member States found at the following website: EU Member States' Country Commercial Guides
European Union 28 Economic Development and Investment Law