EU-wide legal protection for local skills, crafts and industries

The EU is already having specific protection mechanism for agro-food products, so-called geographical protection, GI. However, the industrial and manufacturing sectors presently lack an EU-wide mechanism to protect “qualities” attributed to specific local skills and traditions relating to such crafts and industrial products as ceramics, glassware, clothing, lace, jewellery, furniture, knives, etc. The Commission presents a draft regulation aimed at protecting crafts and products associated with their region and traditional know-how. 

The European Union protects more than 3 thousand names of specific products in the agro-sector, such as various foodstuffs, agricultural specialties, wines, spirit drinks, vegetable oils, etc.
These farmers’ products generally belong to one of existing EU’s food-quality schemes: Geographical Indication (GI), Protected Designations of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), as well as Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG).
The aim of the EU agro-quality schemes is to “certify” and evaluate the best in the member states’ qualitative products with a focus on the registered names, both from the EU states and third countries’ products sold on the EU internal market.
More in: https://www.integrin.dk/2020/04/29/vital-and-profitable-european-food-quality/, and https://www.integrin.dk/2022/04/04/eco-food-and-national-quality-products-advantages-for-european-farmers/

It is evident that industrial and manufacturing crafts, well as a number of regional products need protection. However, there is no any EU-wide means to protect industrial, digital and other “quality goods” attributed to specific local skills and traditions relating to other manufacturing skills, craft and products, such as ceramics, glassware, clothing, lace, jewellery, furniture, knives, etc. Recent regulation’s draft aims to enable producers to protect craft and industrial products associated with their region and their traditional know-how, with effects in Europe and beyond.
With the new regulation, the European manufacturing industry is going to have ever first legal protection framework for intellectual property rights (IPRs) for craft, industrial products and other goods based on original and authentic traditional practices in countries and regions. The new legal framework will cover already existing products, such as Murano glass, Donegal tweed, Porcelaine de Limoges, Solingen cutlery, Boleslawiec pottery, etc. and a number of new ones. Some of these products are already famous both in EU-27 and around the world: however, producers so far lacked a EU-wide indication protection linking their products’ origin and reputation to their quality.
In order to go on, the EU in November 2019 joined the Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origins and Geographical Indications, which is global treaty administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization, WIPO. Adherence to the treaty would bring further impulse to the EU’s institutional activity in industrial crafts’ protection.
Reference to: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_22_2406
On IP better protection see Commission website: https://ec.europa.eu/growth/industry/strategy/intellectual-property/intellectual-property-action-plan-implementation_en
Present proposal follows the Intellectual Property Action Plan adopted in November 2020 and updated in September 2021; in these documents, the Commission announced intention to consider feasibility of a GI protection system for craft and industrial products in EU-27. This intention is based on calls from producers, regional authorities, the European Parliament and the Committee of Regions, asking the Commission to create a regulatory framework for the protection of craft and industrial products.

Intellectual property in EU: expected changes
The issue attracted the EU legislators’ attention at the end of 2020, when the European Commission published a new “Action Plan on Intellectual Property” with the aim of supporting the member states’ recovery and resilience actions. The plan aimed to assist businesses in Europe, especially SMEs, to make the most of their inventions and creations and to put them on track towards economic recovery and Europe’s green and digital transition.
The Commission acknowledges, for example that modern technological revolution with active involvement of data management, business technology, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, 3D-printing, as well as new business models including “platform economy”, etc. offers a “window of opportunity” in modernising states and corporate approach to protecting intangible assets. Consequently, the action plan proposed upgrading the EU framework on intellectual property (IP) by creating a balanced policy and legal instruments to help companies capitalize on their inventions and creative works amid health and economic crises, digital and green transitions.
The action plan, in particular, identified five key focus areas, with specific legislative action in order to: a) improve the IP protection, b) boost the IP uptake by SMEs, c) facilitate access to IP and sharing facilities while guaranteeing a fair return on investment, d) combating counterfeiting and improve enforcement of IP rights, and e) promoting a global level playing field in IPs.
Already by 2021, the Commission wanted to secure the launch of the unitary patent system to create a one-stop-shop for patent protection and enforcement across the EU-27. In addition, the Commission envisages an evaluation of the system of supplementary protection certificates, SPC to make it more transparent and efficient.
As part of the transformation to the digital and green economy, the Commission will revise EU legislation on design protection, with the aim of improving accessibility and affordability of design protection in the states, especially for textile, furniture and electronics ecosystems; present EU design legislation identified several shortcomings. Therefore, there is a need for a clear system and new forms of designs, including e.g. animated designs, graphical user interfaces, 3D printing files, etc. to be protected. Hence, the Commission intends to revise design protection for various engineering and transport spare parts in view of green and digital transition, including more sustainable and greener economy.
The action plan also addresses new digital technologies such as AI or blockchain; the Commission will start a comprehensive dialogue with industrial sectors in the states to explore the use of these new technologies and improve the effectiveness of the existing IP systems. Additionally, the impact of AI on IPRs will be analyzed with respect to AI technologies that are creating new works and inventions; however, the Commission doesn’t regard presently the AI systems as creating authors or inventors’ rights.
Furthermore, the plan proposes creating an EU Toolbox against counterfeiting: the toolbox will establish common actions’ principles in cooperation and data sharing among right holders, intermediaries and law enforcement authorities. The toolbox will also clarify roles and responsibilities to identify cooperative work; it will also promote the use of new technologies such as image recognition, artificial intelligence and blockchain.
Proposed regulation also deals with standardization issues: current technology standards are largely based on companies’ “proprietary technology” and are administered by standardization organisations, such as ETSI and/or IEC. It is often patents that protect this “technology”, so-called “standard essential patents”, or SEPs. Those who want to manufacture standard-compatible products need licenses for their SEPs that protect standardised technology.
More on the plan in: https://ec.europa.eu/growth/industry/strategy/intellectual-property/intellectual-property-action-plan-implementation_en

Effect for business
The majority of craft and geographical industrial (GI) holders are micro, small and medium sized enterprises; hence the proposal for regulation is designed to take into account the specific needs and challenges that these companies face.
Thus the main benefit of this proposal for SMEs is that they can protect their craft and industrial products in the whole EU, through a simple procedure: i.e. at a moderate cost and with minimum administrative burden.
The proposal also helps companies to “internationalize” their products: thus the proposal creates simple procedures to register and manage new GIs, not requiring at any stage of the procedure the involvement of legal representatives; this approach would keep the SMEs’ administrative burden to the minimum.
The proposal provides for a fully digitalised EU application and registration procedure, which should also reduce the administrative burden, which is crucial for SMEs. The simplified enforcement regime foreseen in the proposal, including the self-declaration of compliance with the product specification will be beneficial for SMEs; the latter would make full use of the opportunities offered by IP protection.
The Commission intends to provide a scheme for IP SME Vouchers to finance IPR registration and strategic IP advice. The action plan also includes the roll-out of IP assistance services for SMEs in the “Horizon Europe” program.

Finally, with the new regulation’s draft, the European Commission focuses on simplifying SEP licensing for the benefit of technology development. However, the IP’s action plan remains extremely vague and so far only sets goals for SEP licensing; thus the concrete forms of the Commission’s initiatives remains to be seen.
It is clear that the Commission wants to create more transparency in SEP licensing and oblige standardization organisations to do so is in line with its previous approach, which is expressed in the Communication initiative of November 2017; the action plan follows this line but does not identify the concrete (legislative) measures expected in the future.
The creation of more transparency in the licensing process also focuses on the actual level; in contrast to the Communication of November 2017, the IP action plan does not enter into g necessary legal issues: both SEP holders and SEP implementers were quite critical about it. While advocates of free access to technology state that the EU measures do not sufficiently counteract the exploitive dominant position of SEP implementers, SEP holders fear that future measures will make it more difficult to enforce their intellectual property rights against unauthorized use.
Reference to: https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=6d87a79a-4acc-4577-acbc-088c430ff600; and https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/qanda_22_2407
More information in the following Commission’s web-links: = Proposal for Regulation; = Questions and Answers’ = Geographical indications for craft and industrial products

 

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