The value of patents for SMEs

21 September 2017

One of the essential elements of any competitive economy is the prevalence of thriving small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). With ambitious ideas and innovative solutions, SMEs are often attributed with injecting great energy and productivity into both traditional and new sectors. Year on year, the EPO receives around one third of its applications from SMEs. But if we wish to see that share maintained, or increase further, then we have to ensure that the benefits of patents are widely understood by SMEs.

We are therefore today publishing a set of case studies that show how SMEs are effectively leveraging the power of patents to help achieve business success. The 12 selected case studies are based on a range of SMEs from across Europe, in 11 of our member states, and who operate in a variety of sectors. They provide comprehensive accounts of the ways in which IP is playing an integral role in the development of the enterprises concerned. The examples show how different SMEs are benefitting from patents and reveal that, rather than being the preserve of a few, IP is a powerful tool to be exploited by many and is sometimes the very foundation on which a business can be built.

There is great variety in the approaches those enterprises are taking in their IP strategy as they employ a number of different methods to harness its power. Some use patents to defend their technologies in highly competitive sectors, or to help them truly stand apart from other technologies in the field. Others utilise them to enhance customer perceptions that they are investing in a unique technology and to boost confidence in the innovative nature of the company. Yet others use patents to ensure that they can confidently share sensitive know-how with external partners, while some have used a strong patent portfolio as the basis of a fledgling university spin-off. These are just some of the benefits revealed in the case studies.

To underline best practice, each case study features a number of “takeaway” points highlighting factors that have contributed to successful IP management. These include the potential for the use of customer feedback in developing new innovations and the benefits of a holistic approach to IP management involving other company divisions, such as marketing and finance.

Other than a reliance on robust patents themselves, the proliferation of IP knowledge in an SME is, for me, one of the standout points of these case studies. Many of those profiled talk of the benefits that are gained when a high level of IP awareness permeates throughout a company, whether it is in the form of a basic introduction to IP for new employees or regular consultations between in-house IP experts and other departments. This material will certainly foster the awareness campaigns that the national patent offices are conducting with the support of the EPO. But this is in fact just one strand of our efforts to support a vibrant SME sector. When it comes to robust patents, for example, we offer products and services whose quality has been ranked highest among the IP5. Where there is a need for patent information, we offer unrivalled resources, including the world’s largest collection of technical information, that can help SMEs analyse markets and also identify where there is freedom to operate.

As we look to the future of SMEs and patents, the case studies underline the significant role that the Unitary Patent and Unified Patent Court are set to play in IP strategies. Many of the SMEs featured talk about how the cost-effectiveness of the Unitary Patent and the jurisdiction of the Court will help them expand into other European markets, previously unconsidered by those same companies. Potential savings of up to 70%, a simplified application process with the EPO acting as a one-stop-shop and greater legal certainty will all prove attractive features of the UP and UPC. So, whether they use the Unitary Patent or the classical European patent, or a combination of both, the future holds a wealth of opportunities for SMEs to make the most of patents. It is our hope that these case studies will help increase understanding of how IP can play a fundamental role in the success of SMEs.

Benoît Battistelli


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