Protecting knowledge and results – the IPR Helpdesk shows you how

The protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) is essential
not only for researchers to work willingly together on innovative
research, but also in order to bring the fruits of this
collaboration to the market. IPR is, however, a confusing issue for
many, and in order to understand the plethora of legal
technicalities involved, support is essential.

The re-launch of the IPR Helpdesk came just in time to deal with
the flood of new questions arising from the introduction of
completely new instruments in the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) .
Integrated Projects and Networks of Excellence, which bring
together more partners than the instruments employed in previous
framework programmes, will inevitably complicate the already
confusing issue of IPR. This has not gone unrecognised by the
Commission, which has sought to introduce simplified procedures and
better legal safeguards.

‘Since the pilot project started in 1998, there has been a growing
awareness of the importance of IP rights to the EU research
community, the need to protect these rights, and not to lose or
waste the valuable fruits of EU funded research results,’ Alexander
Weir, from the UK’s Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research
Institute, and responsible for awareness and dissemination
activities at the IPR Helpdesk, told CORDIS News. ‘Today, the
European Commission and the European Parliament have in the IPR
Helpdesk a free service which has a pool of knowledge and expertise
drawn from some of the leading universities in Europe,’ he added.

The Helpdesk is run by a consortium of universities and other
partners from Belgium, Germany, Spain and the UK. It is a free
service and provides assistance to current and potential EU
research project contractors on IP issues. A website provides
general information in five languages – English, French, German,
Italian and Spanish – and includes answers to frequently asked
questions, such as ‘who is the owner of the
improvements/refinements made to pre-existing know-how?’ and ‘do I
have to grant access rights to anybody?’ Questions can be submitted
by e-mail, and the query will be answered within five working days.
The Helpdesk also carries out extensive dissemination and awareness
activities on the importance of IP.

The Commission is taking much more of a back seat with regard to
project management under FP6, and recommends that project partners
commit to a consortium agreement before work commences. While the
Helpdesk does not recommend any one consortium agreement, a
checklist has been drawn up to inform users of the key issues they
should be aware of when compiling such an agreement.

Recent discussions on a Community Patent and software patenting
ensure that IP experts will be sought after for some time to come.
Mr Weir believes that there is also a role for the Helpdesk for the
foreseeable future, and that it may see its portfolio extended:
‘DGs Internal Market, Trade, and in particular DG Research have
considerable interest in IP issues in relation to business and the
research community, so I think that the role of any future IPR
Helpdesk is an area for further expansion into the business and
research environment.’

Negotiations on a Community patent are ongoing, despite the
adoption of a common position by the Competitiveness Council in
March 2003. One of the principal sticking point remains that of
jurisdiction – whether the system should be managed by a single
court or national courts. As the first priority is coherent and
consistent jurisprudence, the Commission ‘understands that the best
option will be the establishment of a central patent court to deal
with infringement and validity issues,’ Mr Weir told CORDIS News.
He believes that the most important features of a Community patent
system would involve the establishment of a central patent court in
Luxembourg, specialised patent chambers in the Court of First
Instance for hearing appeal cases, and the option to create
regional courts if the number of cases becomes too high for one
central court.

For further information on the IPR Helpdesk, please visit