Brussels, 28 Oct 2003
The protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) is essential not only for researchers to work willingly together on innovative research, but also in order to bring the fruits of this collaboration to the market. IPR is, however, a confusing issue for many, and in order to understand the plethora of legal technicalities involved, support is essential.
The IPR Helpdesk was launched in 1998 as a pilot project under the Innovation-SME sub-section of the Fifth Framework Programme. Recognising the assistance that the project had provided to Europe's research community since its inception, the Helpdesk became an 'accompanying measure' in 2002, defined by the Commission as an action which 'contributes to the implementation of a specific programme'.
The re-launch of the IPR Helpdesk came just in time to deal with the flood of new questions arising from the introduction of completely new instruments in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). Integrated Projects and Networks of Excellence, which bring together more partners than the instruments employed in previous framework programmes, will inevitably complicate the already confusing issue of IPR. This has not gone unrecognised by the Commission, which has sought to introduce simplified procedures and better legal safeguards.
'Since the pilot project started in 1998, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of IP rights to the EU research community, the need to protect these rights, and not to lose or waste the valuable fruits of EU funded research results,' Alexander Weir, from the UK's Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute, and responsible for awareness and dissemination activities at the IPR Helpdesk, told CORDIS News. 'Today, the European Commission and the European Parliament have in the IPR Helpdesk a free service which has a pool of knowledge and expertise drawn from some of the leading universities in Europe,' he added.
The Helpdesk is run by a consortium of universities and other partners from Belgium, Germany, Spain and the UK. It is a free service and provides assistance to current and potential EU research project contractors on IP issues. A website provides general information in five languages - English, French, German, Italian and Spanish - and includes answers to frequently asked questions, such as 'who is the owner of the improvements/refinements made to pre-existing know-how?' and 'do I have to grant access rights to anybody?' Questions can be submitted by e-mail, and the query will be answered within five working days. The Helpdesk also carries out extensive dissemination and awareness activities on the importance of IP.
The Commission is taking much more of a back seat with regard to project management under FP6, and recommends that project partners commit to a consortium agreement before work commences. While the Helpdesk does not recommend any one consortium agreement, a checklist has been drawn up to inform users of the key issues they should be aware of when compiling such an agreement.
Recent discussions on a Community Patent and software patenting ensure that IP experts will be sought after for some time to come. Mr Weir believes that there is also a role for the Helpdesk for the foreseeable future, and that it may see its portfolio extended: 'DGs Internal Market, Trade, and in particular DG Research have considerable interest in IP issues in relation to business and the research community, so I think that the role of any future IPR Helpdesk is an area for further expansion into the business and research environment.'
Negotiations on a Community patent are ongoing, despite the adoption of a common position by the Competitiveness Council in March 2003. One of the principal sticking point remains that of jurisdiction - whether the system should be managed by a single court or national courts. As the first priority is coherent and consistent jurisprudence, the Commission 'understands that the best option will be the establishment of a central patent court to deal with infringement and validity issues,' Mr Weir told CORDIS News. He believes that the most important features of a Community patent system would involve the establishment of a central patent court in Luxembourg, specialised patent chambers in the Court of First Instance for hearing appeal cases, and the option to create regional courts if the number of cases becomes too high for one central court.
For further information on the IPR Helpdesk, please visit: