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Intellectual property rights (IPR) are legal rights aimed at protecting the creations of the intellect, such as inventions, the appearance of products, literary, artistic and scientific works and signs, among others.

Type of creation   Intellectual Property Rights
literary, artistic and scientific works copyright
performances of performing artists, phonogram recordings by producers, and rights of broadcasters over radio and TV programmes related rights or neighbouring rights
inventions patents and utility models
product appearance design
signs - words, phrases, symbols or designs (or a combination of these) which are used as brands of goods and services trade mark

 

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Intellectual property is created by most companies, whatever business they are involved in. For many of these organisations, intellectual property is even their most important asset (e.g. startup or spin out companies)

Safeguarding this possession is therefore vital and can offer SMEs many opportunities, in particular:

  • to have an exclusive set of rights in the market over their creations (for example, a patented invention allows a monopoly of twenty years, and means that a patent provides its owner with a right to prevent or exclude all others from commercially using it);
  • to obtain higher returns on their investments, since owning intellectual property rights may not only enhance the bargaining power, but may also be exploited through licences in return for royalty payments;
  • to enhance the market value and increase future profit expectations of an organisation in the eyes of investors and financing institutions.

It is therefore essential that SMEs consider protecting their creations through intellectual property and efficiently manage these assets to reap the most from their investment.

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In Your Europe, a website maintained by the European Commission, you can find an overview of the intellectual property (IP) framework at the EU level and also in all Member States. A list of resources and contacts of organisations that can provide you with further assistance can also be found on this website.

National IP offices are also a valuable source of information. In the website of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), there is a Directory of Intellectual Property Offices where you can find the contact details of all IP offices in the EU.

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This matter is not harmonised at the European level, and is therefore regulated by national laws. However, as a general principle in Europe, the rights to intellectual property developed by an employee in the course of his employment duties usually belong to the employer. Sometimes an assignment is mandatory, such as where employee works (inventions) are assigned by an employee to the employer because of the employment contract. On the other hand it is generally acknowledged that the rights to intellectual property (e.g. inventions) developed "on the side", with no relation to the employment relationship and without use of company resources, is the property of the employee.