4iP News

Legislating Epiphany: 4iP members generate debate

12 February 2015

4iP members generate debate between the European Commission, technology innovators and intellectual property service providers.

The delicate task of developing policies that achieve an effective equilibrium between intellectual property protection and recompense for innovation on the one hand, and access to technology on the other was the recurring theme at a packed conference hosted by a leading European think tank, Bruegel this week.

‘The Future of Patents’ was energetically debated by Kerstin Jorna, Director of Industrial Property, Innovation and Standards with the European Commission’s DG Growth; Alain Berger, Senior VP and engineer at Alstom Technologie; Mathew Heim, 4iP Board Member; François Barrault former CEO, entrepreneur and Chairman of research firm iDATE, and Paul Lugard, partner at the law firm, Baker Botts.

Shaped by a web of complex and differing factors and often the result of a moment of epiphany, the nature and origin of innovation is understandably hard to grasp. It is not surprising, therefore, that the enormous challenge of legislating for the right conditions for innovation to flourish in Europe, partly through the intellectual property systems unified the panellists.

Kerstin Jorna provided examples of the progress of the EU’s intellectual property policy, notably the forthcoming Unified Patent Court initiative, creating a one-stop shop for patent registration in the EU that will come into effect in 2017. It promises to significantly ease inventors’ administrative pain. All other participants spoke to the issue of cost and investment, notably the reticence of financial backers to place their faith in the intangible outcomes of an invention, especially a weakly protected one. As 4iP’s Mathew Heim put it, “It isn’t a good message for investors if you have to explain that growth, if achieved, will be restrained”.

Instances of risk-reward imbalance, for the most part triggered by over simplified decision-making, were discussed at length. The view that the patent system should be reformed was questioned by iDATE’s Barrault and by other panellists testifying to its legitimacy; while regretting its complexity. “Many SMEs” agreed Jorna, “don’t know how to patent”.

Alstom’s Alain Berger pointed to the need to consider the external dimension, citing the COB21’s treatment of climate change and its impact on technology innovation. While Mathew Heim and others pointed to a need for more coherence within the Commission, “we see varying signs from different parts of the Commission and this is difficult for us to navigate”.

The European Commission, said Jorna, is looking at the broader aspect of innovation as part of “the notion of the fairer internal market” and saw it as unfair that free-riders should seek to benefit from others inventions. This, alongside an increased focus on impact over tools within the Commission may help to inform and consolidate discussions on intellectual property and lead to better solutions. Hard evidence will be needed, however, before pushing for any amendments in IP policies or changing the patent system. Mathew Heim urged the Commission to gather robust empirical evidence in order to understand whether there was a need for intervention, and what scope it should take, before seeking to regulate. As Jorna noted, “The EC is learning on evidence… We all need the arguments. Policy-makers need them to move on regulation”. Her reference to a forthcoming study covering “how IP improves the capacity of a company to get money” is relevant in this context. This work, aspects of which will reportedly become available between now and May 2015, will succeed a report published two years ago on the impact of IPR on Europe’s economy.

You will find more detail on the themes of “The Future of Patents” in this quarter’s issue of iDate’s Communication & Strategies to which the Commission’s Kerstin Jorna and Paul Lugard contributed. 4iP’s Mathew Heim was co-editor along with Prof. Yann Meniere, Mines ParisTech, and Dr Theone van Dijk, Chief Economist of the European Patent Office.