Business planet takes a look at how EU firms can protect their intellectual property from copycats, both home and abroad.
Business Planet looks at how one startup is confidently breaking into the Chinese market after it received the right advice on how to protect its product.
Dutch firm InMotionVR has developed what it says is a completely new way to treat muscular pain. Combining video games and virtual reality (VR), the firm says its technology helps physiotherapists to retrain and exercise a patient’s muscles in a fun and interactive way.
InMotionVR knows the value of its intellectual property (IP). It’s already taken steps to protect its IP rights in Europe. But the company also wants to expand into China. For that, it got in touch with an EU funded service called the China IP SME Helpdesk.
“We were contacted by a partner from Hong Kong and because we didn’t have any experience in the Chinese market we were put in touch with the helpdesk, and this was really helpful for us to get started in that market...it really made us aware of what we needed to do. It provided us [with] a lot of free advice, saving us time and precious money, but it also helped us speed up entry into the Chinese market,” explains inMotionVR's CEO, Gert-Jan Brok.
IP in the EU
It is estimated that as much as 45 percent of the EU’s GDP is generated by intellectual property-intensive industries. Moreover, studies suggest companies that protect their IP rights have around 30 percent higher revenues. Despite that, less than 10 percent of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) in Europe safeguard their intangible assets.
Experts say many small firms don’t see the benefits of IP or they find the procedures to protect their intellectual assets too costly. Jim Stoopman from the China IP SME Helpdesk, who advised inMotionVR with its plans to enter China, says firms need to be prepared when it comes to working inside the Chinese market.
"IP in the end is a primary means to protect your brand and your innovation from copycats whilst gaining strategic advantage over competitors. IP is also a source of cash flow by means of IP sales and licencing, and it’s a way to attract potential investors.”
Along with China, the EU has four other IP Helpdesks for Europe, South-East Asia, Latin America and India. The European Commission has also recently unveiled a new intellectual property action plan to help EU companies. That seeks to support SMEs so they can make the most of their creative ideas and inventions.
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 intangible assets.
What exactly is the China IP SME Helpdesk and how do you support SMEs?
“So the China IP SME Helpdesk 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 trainings, 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.”
China is a tricky market, it’s notorious for copycats and IPR breaches. How do you help companies enforce their rights when they need that?
“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 I'm a company and I want to protect my intellectual property in China, how can I get in touch with you?
“I would very much encourage companies that have a question regarding IP to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org 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 how IP applies to their business or to their product."
Intellectual property rights protect the intangible assets of companies and help them to safeguard and exploit their creations and innovations.
The international IP Helpdesks support European SMEs in China, South-East Asia, Latin America and most recently (as of December 2020) in India.
These multi-lingual IP Helpdesks offer free services, including confidential first-line advice on registering formal IPRs (such as patents, trademarks or design rights), managing intellectual property as business assets, dealing with intellectual property rights infringements, and the provision of information and training on related topics.