The protection of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) at European level: the “IPR SME Helpdesk” of the European Commission

The protection of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) at European level: the “IPR SME Helpdesk” of the European Commission

The term intellectual property refers to the set of rights aimed at protecting works and creations in the scientific, artistic and industrial fields. Geographical indications, trademarks, patents, industrial designs, copyrights and trade secrets are examples of rights that can be protected and safeguarded. For many SMEs, the recognition and protection of intellectual property rights (IPRs) for their products may constitute a competitive advantage against larger companies or in terms of internationalisation opportunities and access to foreign markets.

For our SMEs, the protection of geographical indications is of particular importance given the quality and excellence of our products. The term geographical indication indicates a name, or a sign, used on products that have a specific geographical origin (underlined by the use of acronyms such as “IGP”, “DOC”, “DOCG” etc.) and that possess qualities, reputation or characteristics that are essentially attributable to that place of origin.


At international level, the protection and the safeguarding of IPRs are fragmented in a set of treaties and conventions – e.g. the WTO TRIPs Agreement and the 28 Conventions administered by the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organisation, a UN specialized Agency, established in 1967, with the aim of promoting and protecting the intellectual property rights globally). With regard to geographical indications, under WIPO, the “Lisbon system” has established a mechanism for the international registration of appellations of origin which protects 1073 geographical indications – of which 143 concerning Italian products (including Pecorino cheese, Sardinian lamb and wine Cannonau). However, only 28 of the 191 WIPO Members have joined the Lisbon system (the only major economies are Mexico, Israel and Turkey).

Aware of the importance of the protection and the safeguarding of IPRs, the European Union adopted in 2008 a Strategy – revised in 2014 – for the enforcement of EU IPRs in third countries. In this regard, the EU has set many “Working Groups on Intellectual Property” (e.g. IP Working Group with China) or included IPR Chapters in the so-called “new generation” free trade agreements (FTAs) negotiated with commercial partners such as Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam and Canada (the latter – known as CETA – grants protection to 145 EU geographical indications on the Canadian market).

In order to support European SMEs on some relevant markets (China, South-East Asia, Latin America), the European Commission has established the “IPR SME Helpdesk” in order to help EU SMEs in protecting IPRs. The Helpdesk, financed under the COSME and Horizon 2020 Programmes, provides free-of-charge consultancy, information and training services. Topics may be either of a general (e.g. registration of intellectual property rights in a given country) or a practical nature (e.g. selection of business partners or interviews with experts in field of intellectual property rights).

The COSME 2018 Working Programme foresees the strengthening of this instrument with the creation of a new international IPR Helpdesk, in addition to those already established for China, South-East Asia and Latin America.


IPR SME Helpdesk:

Small and medium enterprises, Internationalisation and export