Supporting Europe's innovative SMEs: an interview with the European Intellectual Property Helpdesk

Not all IPKat readers may be aware of the European Intellectual Property (IP) Helpdesk. The European IP Helpdesk provides free-of-charge, first-line support and information on all matters related to IP management. By registering a free account on its website, users can get in touch with a Helpline team to get assistance with their individual IP questions.

To help bring the European IP Helpdesk’s services to the attention of readers and potential users, I conducted a brief interview with Ms Stephanie Weber, the Helpdesk's Communication Manager. Big thanks to Stephanie for taking the time to answer my questions

Q: What is the purpose of the European IP Helpdesk?

A: The European IP Helpdesk is an initiative of the European Commission and provides free-of-charge, first-line support on any IP-related issue to help potential and current participants in EU-funded projects, as well as European Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to manage their IP assets. We seek to contribute to the management, dissemination and valorisation of innovative technologies by supporting those developing them, particularly internationally operating SME's and research partners.

To this end, we offer a broad range of information materials, on-site and online training events and a Helpline. The main goal is to support IP capacity building throughout the innovation process: from awareness of IP, to strategic use and application of IP, to successful application.

Q: What kind of questions does the European IP Helpdesk receive?

A: The scope of potential questions is very broad. We receive many queries from partners in EU-funded, collaborative research projects, for instance those falling within the ambit of Horizon 2020. They have questions relating to issues such as joint ownership of IP arising from research results, rights of access to existing IP, or uncertainties linked to IP exploitation, which we help them to address. The answers we provide are general and geared towards a first orientation: we do not provide advice on IP strategies in individual cases. Other questions relate to the management of IP portfolios, IP rights in general and different types of IP protection available in Europe.

In addition, we regularly receive questions from SMEs that face potential IP issues. For instance, we were contacted by a SME that produces wooden toys and wanted to develop a new line of games based on existing contemporary art works. The European IP Helpdesk advised the SME on the relevant legal framework and general strategies to avoid liability, such as using works that are in the public domain. We suggested engaging an IP lawyer to perform the necessary rights clearance. In another case, a SME was asked by a large multinational company to join a Horizon 2020 project as a subcontractor, and it had questions about its rights and possibilities to keep its know-how confidential. We highlighted best practices for these types of collaborations, such as use of contractual Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), and the rights that subcontractors can derive from the grant conditions of Horizon 2020 projects. In both cases, we were able to help the SME better understand the legal situation it was facing as a starting point for making its business plans or seeking specialist advice.

Q: So the European IP Helpdesk provides free legal support on IP-related issues?

A: Up to a point, yes. The European IP Helpdesk’s services are all free of charge, but it is important to keep in mind that we only offer first-line assistance. That means we provide orientation to individuals, companies and research partners seeking to understand the IP system and the possibilities it offers, and we can give high-level support on how to tackle certain IP issues.

We do not, however, provide in-depth, legally binding advice of the type clients typically receive at specialized law firms. Where users are in need of more comprehensive advice or legal representation, we generally advise them to seek professional legal counsel.

The European Intellectual Property Helpdesk: ready to answer your IP-related questions
Q: You mentioned the European IP Helpdesk is an initiative of the European Commission. When did it start?

A: Indeed, the European IP Helpdesk is a service initiative of the European Commission, managed by the Commission's Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME). It receives policy guidance from the Commission's Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG Grow).

The initiative was launched in 1998. The Commission periodically grants contracts to consortia of partners applying to run the service. The current team behind the European IP Helpdesk started in January 2019 and its contract will run until the end of 2021.

Q: Can you tell us more about the team now running the European IP Helpdesk?

A: The current consortium consists of four partners: EURICE GmbH, the University of Alicante, TUM-Tech GmbH and the University of Navarra.

EURICE provides support for participants in European framework programmes for research and innovation, while TUM-Tech administers access to university and research institution technologies. The university partners both have outstanding IP experts and, in addition, provide IT infrastructure. More information about the partners and their expertise can be found here.

Each team member provides different expertise and know-how. That makes our team very diverse: it comprises IT developers, web specialists, legal experts, communication managers and graphic designers. In addition to our core team, we collaborate with a number of external IP experts from various fields and backgrounds to address IP issues in specific sectors and business areas, especially for training activities.

Q: What other services do you offer?

A: We have quite a lot going on! For instance, we run a library where our users can find a wide array of different publications to educate themselves on various IP issues. We regularly organize webinars on issues such as licensing, technology transfer or introductions to various IP rights and how they affect businesses. We developed an EU-wide training scheme, which attracts more than 4 300 participants per year. Research teams or companies can also request tailored workshops at their site.

The last thing that is worth pointing out is that the European IP Helpdesk has local ambassadors in almost all EU Member States thanks to a specific collaboration scheme with the Enterprise Europe Network. SMEs can reach out to these ambassadors for advice in their own language, or if they want to discuss some Member State specific issues. So we do what we can to support European innovators on all levels!
Supporting Europe's innovative SMEs: an interview with the European Intellectual Property Helpdesk Supporting Europe's innovative SMEs: an interview with the European Intellectual Property Helpdesk Reviewed by Léon Dijkman on Thursday, February 06, 2020 Rating: 5

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