Research and intellectual property rights: making better use of information from patents

May 23, 2003

Brussels, 22 May 2003

Stepping up Europe's research and innovation capacity depends on improving the patents system and better training and information on patents. Yesterday in Liège (Belgium) Philippe Busquin, the research Commissioner, took part, alongside Mr Kober, President of the European Patent Office (EPO), in the opening of the PATLIB 2003 conference on "patent information", i.e. the information obtained from patents. Commissioner Busquin stressed the increasing importance of intellectual property issues in science and technology, especially in the context of ever-closer relations between universities and industry. The protection of intellectual property is a key element of the Commission's action plan (1) to bring EU research efforts up to 3% of GDP by 2010.

"The action plan recently adopted by the Commission covers many aspects of relations between universities and industry and intellectual property", said Commissioner Busquin. "For example, the Commission is proposing the objective that all students in science, engineering or business studies receive at least basic training on intellectual property and technology transfer."

Training scientists

Besides the regulatory aspects, some of the measures and recommendations of the action plan reflect the need for more awareness-raising and training among scientists on these issues:

  • Support awareness-raising and training activities regarding intellectual property (IP) coordinated at EU level and specifically targeting the European scientific community.

  • Ensure that students, especially in science, engineering and business schools, graduate only after receiving basic training or awareness-raising on IP and technology transfer.

  • Develop European guidelines for managing and exploiting intellectual property rights in public research institutions and public-private partnerships. These guidelines will help public research institutions to develop and enforce voluntary charters setting out the main principles to be applied to ownership and licensing of research results, sharing of revenues, etc.
Reforming public research

These issues are part of the broader context of the need to reform public research, involving:

  • developing more intense and professional relations between the public and private sectors,

  • breaking down barriers to cross-border collaboration, and

  • focusing on the exploitation of the public research results.
The role of the universities

The recent Commission communication on the role of the universities in the Europe of knowledge", (2) also stressed the need to apply scientific research results more effectively by better developing the universities' role in the technological innovation process, in particular by setting up young technology spin-off companies. Today's universities are at the crossroads of research, education and innovation. This is a major challenge for the universities because it forces them to overturn some of their time-honoured traditions. But that is the price of access to the opportunities associated with these developments, and it will confirm their central role in the knowledge society.

The Community patent

The proposal the Commission made in August 2000 aims to set up a Community industrial property right alongside the national patents and the European patent governed, by the Munich convention system and the European Patent Office (EPO).

The Community patent is designed to be a unitary right costing substantially less than the European patent and providing greater legal certainty by means of a specialised Community jurisdiction system. In order to cut costs, the requirement to translate Community patents after they are granted will apply only to the patents' claims.

After several years of deliberations the Council meeting (competition) of 3 March agreed a common political approach defining the main elements of the future Community patent, namely jurisdiction, language arrangements, costs, role of national offices and distribution of fees.

The PATLIB conference

Like the 280 PATLIB documentation centres located throughout Europe, the PATLIB conference aimed to help exploit the mine of technical information in patents. This is especially important since duplicated research costs European industry more than ¤20 billion a year, owing mainly to a lack of information on the results of previous R&D projects.

Innovation and technology transfer

The issues of intellectual property and university-industry relations are just as important for private companies, who also have fast-growing needs for new knowledge and therefore for protection of that knowledge.

The increasing importance of intellectual property and technology transfer within European research policy paves the way for closer cooperation between the EPO and the Commission, which have numerous objectives in common.

More information:

PATLIB conference 2003:

"Investing in research: an action plan for Europe" COM(2003) 226 :

"The role of the universities in the Europe of knowledge" COM(2003) 58 final:

European Patent Office:
(1) COM(2003)226, 30.4.2003.
(2) COM(2003)58, 5.2.2003.

DN: IP/03/733 Date: 22/05/2003

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