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Safeguarding ideas: "not enough companies take it seriously"

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Intellectual property (IP) can sometimes be difficult to identify as it may often be linked to something intangible. That's why IP is defined as creations of the mind covering anything from literary and artistic works, to designs, symbols, names and images.

Protecting your company's IP, however, is an essential, yet often overlooked task. While companies that do protect their IP are estimated to earn around 30 percent higher revenues, less than 10 percent of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) do anything to safeguard their intangible assets.

Jim Stoopman helps run the China IP SME Helpdesk. Business Planet spoke to him to find out more about how the free service helps companies protect their assets.

What exactly is the China IP SME Helpdesk and how do you support SMEs?

“So the China IP SME Help Desk is a service that provides free initial and confidential advice to European SMEs. We often see that SMEs think of IP as very complex, expensive, it is full of legal jargon, and we try to provide sort of an initial first access point for SMEs to better understand IP and how it applies to their product and to doing business in and with China. We do this by means of giving training, webinars, we have a helpline that companies can call to ask any question they might have on intellectual property, we have a website with a lot of freely downloadable information available, and I think it's important to emphasise as well that we not only cover mainland China, but also Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao, which are markets with a different legal system in place for the protection of intellectual property rights.”

Do enough companies take their IP seriously and does it need to be expensive to protect your intellectual property?

“No, I think there's not enough companies that take it seriously. There was a study carried out in 2019 by the EU IPO that showed that less than 10 percent of European SMEs actually use IP to protect their intangible assets, so there is still a lot of room for improvement of getting more SMEs to see the benefits of using IP and to inform them as well on how to do so, not only within Europe, but also in complicated third markets such as China. In terms of the financial question, is it expensive? That really depends. So if we look, for example, trademarks and copyrights, they tend to be a bit cheaper usually. But if you want to register, for example, your designs, or utility models, or patents, this can be often a bit more expensive, and we really recommend as well to SMEs to always work with qualified patent attorneys or IP lawyers to register their rights in any given market.”

China is a tricky market, notorious for copycats and IP breaches. How do you help companies enforce their rights when they need be?

“First of all, it's incredibly important that your rights are registered in a third market in China, in this case. We see often that SMEs think that a trademark that's registered in any given European member state is automatically protected in a country like China. This is not the case. IP is considered to be territorial, which means you have to register the right in any market that is of relevance to you. In case of an infringement, what we do is we provide advice to European companies on the various avenues of enforcement that exist in China and we give advice also, for example, in the collection of evidence of the infringement, which can obviously help in case you need to bring your case to court."

If a company wants to protect its IP in China, how can it get in touch with you?

“I would very much encourage companies that have a question regarding IP to contact us at question@china-iprhelpdesk.eu and you’ll receive a response within three working days from our IP business advisor. I would also strongly recommend companies to have a look at our website, which is full of freely downloadable information, to really be more informed and get information on how IP applies to their business or to their product."