The EPO and the European Union (EU) established effective cooperation links that have given rise to several bilateral projects. Together with the European Commission's Trade Directorate-General, the EPO has helped to establish an effective and enforceable IP system in China - just one example of the fruitful teamwork.
"We have regular, almost daily contacts with officials at the European Parliament and at many directorates of the Commission," says Jean-Luc Gal. The Frenchman heads the EPO's liaison office in Brussels, established in 2003 to strengthen the co-operation between the EPO and the European Union (EU). All 27 EU member states are also members of the EPO, "so naturally, when it comes to intellectual property, our policies should head in a similar direction," Gal says.
The EPO co-operates most closely with:
There are several directorates-general (DGs) that deal with or are affected by IP, including:
Once the EU's trade directorate establishes trade agreements with outside countries, the EPO steps in to lend support in terms of streamlining the issue of IP. The EU's emphasis currently lies on Brazil, Russia and China.
In China, the EPO supported a EUR 16 million, EU-funded project called IPR2 that aimed to help China implement thorough IP standards and enforce them effectively. Experts from the EPO's member states advised the Chinese IP authorities on various aspects - from judicial support to trademark tips to copyright enforcement. EPO experts and officials from the EU shared an office in Beijing, with one EPO official being permanently dispatched to assist the EU's ambassador to China.
Before the EPO can establish such projects, it needs to know the Commission's priorities. DG External Relations sets out these priorities, which the EPO then tries to follow up with concrete action.
Lately, the EPO has been asked to support the EU's neighbourhood policy, which includes countries like Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and the Mediterranean states.
The EU's neighbourhood policy aims to create a common market with non-EU countries without promising them direct membership.
The EPO also helps with the scientific aspect of IP. Experts at DG Research are keen to know all about new technologies. The EPO, which is at the forefront of innovation, helps with insight. The Office also tries to point the DG to under-funded technologies, which may then receive EU money.
Sometimes patents are misused to acquire market dominance. The competition directorate tries to slash monopolies and has in the past launched competition cases that received a lot of attention from the media. The most recent was against big pharmaceutical companies who allegedly use patents to dominate the market and smaller competitors. The EPO has dispatched one examiner to work on this special case.
Together with DG Research, the EPO also tries to influence policy-making to support innovation. One example is a project called ip4inno that provides teaching tools for experts trying to explain IP to the public.
Finally, the EPO works together with DG Internal Market, which is in charge of creating the future litigation system in Europe.
The EPO is eager to create close contacts with members of the European Parliament (MEPs). It has staff following the floor debates and tries to be present in the judicial and science committees.