The Cooperation Fund

Countries

EU

Policy areas

Organisation name European Intellectual Property Office

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Contact person: Vanessa Witkowski

vanessa.witkowski@euipo.europa.eu

Every business should be able to access trademark and design rights, and in the EU this can be done either at national or European level. In the EU Member States, national intellectual property offices register trademark and design rights valid in that Member State. At the European level, the decentralised agency of the EU, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) administers unitary protection for businesses looking to secure their trademark and design rights across the EU.

This parallel system is a critical aspect of the intellectual property (IP) system, enabling businesses to obtain the right protection for their needs. In 2010, some National IP offices had fully electronic systems, making it easy to apply online for a trademark or design. Some did not, resulting in delays and barriers for many businesses to secure IP rights.

The IP offices and main user associations of the EU therefore began to work together on a unique venture to improve the IP system in the EU, known as the Cooperation Fund (CF). The fund was financed entirely by EUIPO, with a budget of €50 million. In five years it developed, built and implemented tools and services geared towards helping users secure their IP rights in the EU, and helping EU IP offices to go move online – saving time and money for their users, particularly SMEs, which represent 99% of all EU businesses.

The Cooperation Fund was collaborative at its very core, building tools and services not just for users and IP offices, but with them. Through a project-based structure, it leveraged the expertise of EU national office experts, IP professionals and businesses to build a series of advanced tools, services and solutions that covered every aspect of the IP life cycle: from the initial search process, through to application and registration, management and enforcement of IP rights.

Close cooperation via technical work, inter-organisational staff exchange and focused teamwork on specific projects has shown that governments and IP authorities across the EU could work together to support each other, promoting IP protection and transparency for all users, wherever they are. The various working groups guided project teams composed of experts and consulting companies. This meant that every six months, experts from public services or companies were invited to attend a week-long workshop together with the technicians, and the architectural experts who either built the tools or developed their design.

Each intellectual property office designated several of its staff members to the development and implementation of the projects. EUIPO financed the deployment of project managers in some offices, to ensure the successful delivery of all the tools and services. The deployed project managers provided a direct daily link between EUIPO and the EU national and regional intellectual property offices, and helped to maximise the number of successful implementations of the projects.

To increase accessibility, they were all gathered through one common portal. It has never been quicker and easier to file a trademark or a design, through reliable and user-friendly technology. Powerful databases containing over 40 million global trademarks and 10 million global designs are within the reach of anyone who wants to use them. Businesses and enforcers are connected through a single platform to help in the fight against counterfeiting.

The primary objective was to help National IP offices develop their own autonomy and sustainability. The initiative was not based on a centralised action, but was a means to make IPOs stronger and more independent. In fact, although data is accessible via a centralised system, each office remains the owner of the data and continues to be responsible for its updating and maintenance 24/7. The centralised databases are therefore a near real-time reflection of all the trademarks and designs filed within the participating countries.

A good spirit of collaboration was established throughout the Cooperation Fund’s lifetime. Experts from different offices and user groups, working in different lines of business, have created well-functioning networks which can be taken advantage of for future collaborative projects.

After EPSA, the European Cooperation projects have been embedded in Regulation EU 2015/2424. In practical terms, this means that EUIPO is now legally committed to the sustainability of the Cooperation Fund’s main features (its maximum budget, the targets and the management board, to name just a few).

Every six months, EUIPO continues to invite experts from public services or companies to attend a sustained week-long workshop together with the technicians who built the tools and the architectural experts who developed their design. This is especially important as the IT tools provided in the framework of the CF are in constant evolution.

 The new tools have allowed for valuable savings in time according to 74% to 84% of IP offices (depending on the tool) and in cost, according to 50% to 80% of IP offices (also depending on the tool), while 70% of IP offices which now offer online services were not doing so before the Cooperation Fund’s IT tools. The IP offices therefore have a vested interest in making sure that the modernisation of their systems stays updated and maintained.

Building these advanced tools and rolling them out across the EU has involved more than 100 000 person days of effort, including EUIPO staff, consultants, experts from EU national and regional intellectual property offices and 11 user organisations. During the peak development phase for the tools, the work of up to 300 people (40 from EUIPO, 180 from national and regional intellectual property offices and the remainder from contracting companies), either full or part-time, was coordinated under the CF.

On average, the investment amounted to €1.88 million in IT projects for each of the national and regional intellectual property offices participating in the Cooperation Fund, although the individual amounts varied widely depending on specific needs and local labour costs.

The Cooperation Fund touched every single EU IP office, with more than 300 people across the EU working to achieve its aims – national office experts based in their own Member States, EUIPO staff, businesses and IP professionals. A maximum of around 165 integrations of the tools and services was foreseen, but in the end, over 370 integrations had taken place with, on average, €1.88 million invested in each National IP office. The IT tools developed were transferable from one IP office to another. Each tool was entirely free to use and reflected a different aspect of the IP process.

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