Recent studies demonstrate the important contribution of intellectual property rights (IPR) to the American and EU economies. Royalties and licence fees based on IPR figure high among the exports of both, and applications, and grants, for IPR protection made by Europeans in the US and vice-versa represent an important share of the totals. The differences between the respective IPR systems are comparatively small, yet seen as hard to overcome. The negotiation of the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) may present the opportunity for a step change in EU-US relations in respect of IPR.
Protection of intellectual property (IP) and IPR is justified as a necessity for encouraging innovation, creativity and investment in research and development activities. On the other hand, granting IPRs may have social and economic costs, in particular when IPR owners make inefficient use of the protected goods while preventing others from using them more efficiently. Therefore, IP law is concerned with striking an appropriate balance between the owners of IPR and the interests of the general public in free access to information and knowledge. At international level, a series of conventions and treaties set minimum substantive and procedural standards with respect to IP protection and enforcement, and form the international legal regime on IPR.
With increasing trade in IP-related goods and services, the United States (US), the European Union (EU) and other industrialised nations have pushed for better enforcement measures against counterfeit and pirated goods and for regulation of IP from the perspective of trade policy. Moreover, a number of bilateral and regional free trade agreements (FTAs) between the EU or US and third countries have included IPR chapters or IPR provisions going beyond the minimum standards agreed at multilateral level. Bilateral investment agreements (BITs) are also used to protect the rights of investors who use IP as a means of investment. However, this expansion of IPR (in multilateral and bilateral agreements, as well as to new subject matters) led mainly by developed countries has raised a range of concerns as well as opposition from developing countries, mostly concerned with ensuring transfers of technology and access to generic medicines.
Both the US and EU attach great importance to the protection of IPR and each has put in place a high-standard legal system of IP protection and enforcement. Patents, designs, trademarks, copyright, geographical indications, and more recently trade secrets, have been the main areas of focus. Specifically, the EU has gone through a successful process of assuming competence from its Member States (MS) to regulate in the field of IPR and has managed to institute Union-wide systems with regard to trademarks, designs, geographical indications and even patents (the latter not yet in application). Efforts to establish effective enforcement and border measures against IP infringements are another constant preoccupation for both the EU and US.
As both the EU and US have sought to promote in their bilateral and regional FTAs strong IPR-related standards, an IP chapter is also expected to feature in TTIP now under negotiation, as a joint effort to promoting strong IP protection globally. Nevertheless, concerns have been expressed. Parallels with the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), rejected by the European Parliament in July 2012, are being made, in particular over lack of transparency in the talks and the fear that TTIP would see some of the controversial ACTA provisions reintroduced. Furthermore, issues such as geographical indications may become a stumbling block in the negotiations.