We came a long way, and there is still a long way to go

Earlier this year, the European Commission adopted a wide-ranging strategy on IPRs. This strategy sets out a blueprint for a number of initiatives the Commission intends to launch between now and 2012 in various areas, including patents, trade marks, geographical indications, copyright licensing and digital libraries.

The ambitious work programme was also mentioned in the most recent Commission Work Programme for 2012, specifically with regards to the Digital Agenda. Based on all this activity, one could argue that discussions on Intellectual Property Regulations (IPRs) and their “legal architecture” are becoming increasingly important to the European Union. And indeed they should be, especially in the current economic climate, where Europe remains desperate for any avenues that can open us up to new innovation and, alongside it, economic growth.

This new impetus provides a good reason for us to come back and reflect on our own work in this unique and important area.

Back in March 2005, when the Stockholm Network launched the very first issue of its bulletin, Know IP, we intended to provide a new and valuable contribution to the discourse on IPRs. We wanted to make the discussion less emotional and more rational, less dichotomous and more panoramic.

To this extent our IP programme has emphasised three key objectives:

  • To make the field of IP more accessible to the general public

  • To increase the interaction between specialists focusing on different aspects of IPRs

  • And most importantly, to encourage informed discussion, as well as debates, on a range of topical IP issues.

We argued (and still do) that we aim neither to idolise nor demonise IPRs. Rather, it is important to see IPRs as a policy toolbox aimed at achieving two social goals:  to provide incentives for innovating and developing new knowledge and products in the future; and to ensure wide public access to such products in the present.

Six years have gone by and we can note with a certain degree of satisfaction that our “quest” is heading in the right direction.

Discussions today about IPRs are certainly more open, constructive and informative. They have evolved from a stage in which one was either “for” or “against” IPRs into a more practical stage, in which the system can be viewed and judged by its own merits, looking at both its strengths and weaknesses.

Discourse today focuses on choice and co-existence, for example, using both proprietary and non-proprietary models, for the future of innovation.

IPRs are no longer viewed as legal instruments, but also as assets in their own right, thereby reflecting the changing mode of innovation.

Debates on the relationship between IPRs and competition have also evolved enormously. The delicate relationship between these two fields has generated some new and valuable discussions, which are very important to policy-making in this field.

Indeed, we have come a long way, but still, there is a long way to go.

Much more data and evidence is needed in order to make informed decisions relating to the field of IPRs. Moreover, certain IP discussions (for example, on issues concerning IPRs and trade, or in the field of pharmaceuticals) are still dominated by political and emotional debates, at times generating heat at the expense of substance.

In these areas we certainly have our work cut out for us, but we are confident that we can make a difference here as well.

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