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Monday, 14 February 2011

That IP advice for SMEs: the advisers respond

As an SME (Small Mouse Executioner),
Tweedle wondered whether the Helpdesk
seriously expected her to swallow THAT!
Last December, in "Hands across the ocean, hands off our IP!" (here) the IPKat asked some testing questions concerning the announcement "Transatlantic Economic Council: EU and US launch joint website against counterfeiting and piracy" and the substance that lay behind it. The Kat has since received two responses which deserve his readers' attention. The first is from Simon Cheetham (Team Leader, China IPR SME Helpdesk), who explains:
"We wanted to respond to your comment regarding the advice offered on the China IPR SME Helpdesk website. On behalf of the Helpdesk team let me first say that we appreciate critical comments and suggestions; we are starting the second three-year phase of the China IPR SME Helpdesk and we are looking to build upon accomplishments from the first pilot phase and to make improvements wherever we can.

As you will appreciate the website was designed to be helpful to European SMEs who are planning on dealing with China or who have experienced IP infringement in China, many of whom do not have a background in IPR. Including some necessary disclaimers was therefore considered essential (and not actually intended to be the substantive advice). The site gives access to Helpdesk publications, a case study catalogue, E-learning modules and an e-mail enquiry facility and we received on average over 2,000 new website users per month.

There is a lot of information on the site; however, there is scope to go deeper into relevant IP issues. We recognize that we need to be prepared to advise businesses on ever more sophisticated challenges, as well as on introductory matters. Our objective is to continue to do this though jargon-free, practical, business-focused advice and the website will be one of the components in a strategy to deliver that advice. We also welcome individual enquiries from SMEs to discuss specific issues of concern and more comprehensive or in-depth advice is available free, in person or by e-mail to enquiries@china-IPRhelpdesk.eu. Once it becomes evident that the way forward would be, for example, to work with a lawyer or to contact an administrative authority, the Helpdesk also offers advice on how to take those steps.

We depend upon a team to make all this happen and if you or someone you work with would like to be considered as an expert resource for the China IPR SME Helpdesk, please contact jchanna@euccc.com.cn to be considered".
The second comment comes from Stephanie J Mitchell (European Commission, Directorate-General for Enterprise & Industry, Unit B-2: Industrial Competitiveness Policy, Head of IPR Team) and it reads thus:
"I'm glad you were interested in our joint initiative and happy to be able to provide you with answers to your questions. I'm sorry about your difficulties with the site; here is the correct URL: http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/initiatives/ipr/index_en.htm 
If you or readers have any further difficulties, we'd like to know so we can fix them (we can be reached at entr_ipr@ec.europa.eu). Hopefully actually seeing the portal more completely will already answer some of your questions, but here is a summary for you to go on with.

The materials linked to by the portal are materials that have been developed by various EU- and US- funded programmes and projects, which were perhaps not so well-known, were not linked together, and not necessarily easy to find except for those connected to, or specifically referred to by, those projects. During our regular discussions with our US colleagues, we realised that we both had many materials which should be made more accessible and which could be of use to businesses from both areas. This portal is our effort to make them easily available to a wider public. The information is free to all; where there are links to services which are only available, for example, to EU businesses, that is clearly indicated at the link. DG Enterprise and Industry and the US Department of Commerce, whose staff set up the portal in the course of our normal duties and budget, are responsible for regularly updating the portal and for getting the word out to SMEs about it. We'll also be checking to see how it's used and how it can be improved. 
The markets represented are among the main ones in which US and EU businesses have expressed interest. As of this writing they include: Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, Mexico, Egypt, Russia, Croatia, Brunei, China, India, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam -- for all of which there are 'country toolkits' -- as well as sections on the EU (including listings for all the national PTOs) and the USA. Language availability of the materials varies by country and by author of the materials but many items are already available in English, French and Spanish, and some are available in more languages -- China IPR SME Helpdesk materials, for example, are available in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, and Polish. The sectors for which information is available are also those for which various programmes and projects have been created over recent years in response to their requests for support. 
In answer to your question about who creates the materials, they have been created by the experts who work on the various projects and for the various parts of the US and EU administrations concerned (the Customs services, national patent and trademark offices, the China Helpdesk, etc) and are indeed experienced in enforcement and the other topics addressed. 
Finally, you raise a very good question about whether this is the sort of information SMEs need and the way in which they want it. This is the sort of question we ponder quite a bit and to which there's no one perfect answer, in our experience. Our work over the past several years suggests a few things: 
1) Many SMEs avoid any and all contact with the subject of IPR as their perception is that it is bound to be costly, technical, and probably not do them any good anyway. In which case, why bother -- these firms would probably not even contact an IPR lawyer or PTO on the assumption that it would be an expensive hiding to nothing and they'd have no way to judge whether it could have any ultimate benefit. These firms are probably, based on our contacts with firms and sectors, quite a large proportion of SMEs. They are also the ones most at risk, for obvious reasons. 
2) Even those SMEs which are more sophisticated in their understanding of IPR often tend to register patents or trademarks in their home market or a few nearby markets, and may not even consider registering in third markets (for example, China). Many businesses do not realise that protection is territorial and that one registration 'at home' may not suffice. 
3) Most SMEs feel they don't have the resources or time to go seek specialist help even when it is available, unless they are already in the middle of a dispute. For this reason getting advice and information 'close to home' -- something web-based materials are great at -- has been very much appreciated by many firms. Naturally this is no substitute for a chat with a professional in the field, but given reluctance, fear (see (1) above), and press of time, very often that chat won't happen unless some groundwork has been laid first. That is something we can address with materials like these. 
We and the US are continuing to try to improve our various offerings and will always be glad to hear from you and your readers with your suggestions".
The IPKat is delighted to have heard from Simon and Stephanie; he's very grateful that they took the trouble to give such full and helpful answers some of the questions that had been most troubling him.  He very much hopes that readers, and especially those who represent (or purport to represent) SMEs will be able to set aside a little time to test-drive some of the online materials which Simon and Stephanie's organisations have worked to provide, so that they can offer the most valuable and relevant guidance from the horse's mouth.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is that beautiful cat a Maine Coone?

Jeremy said...

From the nature of its coat, it might be a Maine Coon -- but this cat hails from Europe and the Maine Coon is a predominantly North American phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

I've seen some Maine Coons in Europe, there might even be breeders.

The EU fortunately hasn't begun (yet) to enforce indications of origin for animal races, or we'll have loads of fun finding new names for Chihuahua dogs, Holstein cows, Manx cats, etc.

Stephanie Mitchell said...

I confess to inside knowledge -- this is a Eurocat by virtue of his residence in Brussels -- but reasonable minds could differ on whether he's even originally European, if we're talking breeds. He's a Kurilian Bobtail, so there'll probably be some Japanese and Russians along in a minute to join the debate. (And yes, like the majority of ginger cats, he's actually a 'he'. But he loves the caption!)

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