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World IP Day reminds us how Europe can ‘reach for gold’ in the race for tech leadership

By Bernardo Matos, Director IPR Policy at Ericsson

With one month left until the European elections, it is time to reflect on how their outcome may define Europe’s political and economic landscape in the next five years. As the 5G revolution unfolds, policy-makers, stakeholders and businesses face as many opportunities as challenges to boost the EU’s global competitiveness. We need a vision of where we want the EU to be at the end of the 2019-2024 political cycle, and an understanding of the challenges we face to get there.

World IP Day may help us in this task. This year’s theme celebrates sport as a proxy for healthy competition, exploring how innovation, creativity and intellectual property rights support its development and enjoyment around the world. Much like in sport, Europe’s success in the race for global technology leadership will depend not only on talent, investment and commitment, but also on the fairness of the rules of the game. Intellectual property is one of these rules: its adequate protection is a prerequisite to ensure that all innovators – from Europe and elsewhere – can compete on the strength of their inventiveness and ingenuity.

It is also a matter of commercial reality that, with markets becoming ever more global, the challenge is no longer just about establishing equitable rules and fair competition within the European Single Market alone. A forward-looking industrial and digital strategy for Europe should ultimately seek to secure a level playing field globally, without degenerating into protectionism. Quite the contrary, Europe should protect its companies against unfair competition precisely because it should remain the standard-bearer of inclusive innovation.  

Cutting-edge technologies like 5G did not come out of an Easter egg: European companies like Ericsson have played a leading role in the development of cellular standards for over 25 years. With 49,000 granted patents and a 143-year old history, our portfolio is among the strongest in the industry and contributes to making the EU a world-leader in innovation. At a time when large swathes of manufacturing industry have left Europe, one of its key competitive advantages remains its leadership in research and development, not just in big companies like ours, but also in smaller, highly specialised SMEs. This is a major asset, and one that needs to be capitalised upon by EU political leaders.

At Ericsson, we believe in an innovation model that rewards inventors, making sure they can get a fair return on the results of their R&D when another company uses their patented technology. This model of fair compensation – which in the mobile communications space has resulted in tremendous benefits for consumers – means they can keep investing in research and bring out new ideas for the benefit of all. Ultimately, it means the whole ecosystem for mobile communications remains open, sustainable and highly competitive, rather than becoming a “walled garden” controlled by a handful of dominant global companies.

As this legislative term comes to an end, the momentum to reboot Europe’s industrial strategy is building. EU policy-makers should find ways to proactively address the challenging landscape outside Europe, where IPR are widely infringed (often because the benefits of misappropriation offset any potential risk). This also entails taking a stance on difficult issues such as reciprocity in public procurement and access to public funding in third countries. Europe is the most open economic bloc in the world. Here, foreign companies can bid for contracts, get financial support for R&D and be considered by European governments on par with European companies. The same does not always happen outside the EU.

Over the last five years, the EU has strengthened its reputation as a global standard-setter. Numerous challenges arising from the digitalisation of our economy and society are being taken on effectively. Think of how the GDPR is shaping data protection around the world or how the European ethics-based approach to Artificial Intelligence is influencing both governments’ and businesses’ agendas worldwide. Further afield, think of Europe’s role in shaping global policies against climate change or standards in waste management.

Europe’s future prosperity depends on its ability to compete in the global race for technological leadership. Our history and values demand we ensure everyone plays a fair game. This is why the European Commission should make intellectual property protection and the strive for a global level playing field a priority for the next five years, as well as a foundation underpinning its new industrial strategy and digital policies. Only then can Europe look to the finish line with confidence – and ‘reach for digital gold’.

Berlay Matos

Bernardo Matos, Director IPR Policy

Twitter: @berlaymatos

Disclaimer: the views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author and may not necessarily represent those of Ericsson.