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Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

The European Commission supports the improvement of the framework governing the inclusion of patent-protected technologies into standards and the facilitation of the licensing process for these technologies.

What is the relationship between patents and standards?

Patents provide incentives for research and development, and facilitate knowledge transfers. Standards ensure the rapid diffusion of technologies and the interoperability between products.

Many standards are based on patented technologies. For example, the mobile telecommunications industry is driven by a heavy reliance on standardisation, which comprises a great number of innovations protected by patents. 2G (GSM), 3G (UMTS), 4G (LTE), 5G and WiFi networks rely on thousands of patented technologies to work. Such communication standards are also key for the development of the hyper-connected society, for example in the field of the Internet of Things in sectors such as consumer electronics, the automotive industry and the electricity grid industry.

Organisations engaged in standard setting have developed rules and practices to ensure the efficient licensing of patents that are essential for their standards ('standard-essential patents'). A smooth licensing environment is essential to the success of a standard. It helps to achieve broad and rapid diffusion of innovation and to give patent holders an adequate return on investment in research and development (R&D). It also gives all users of the standard fair access at a reasonable cost.

What the Commission is doing

Regulation establishing a framework protection for transparent licensing of Standard Essential Patents

On 27 April 2023, the Commission proposed a new framework for Standard Essential Patents (SEP), including

The SEP reform aims for a balanced framework, setting a global standard for SEP transparency with the following 2 objectives.

  1. Ensuring that both EU SEP owners and implementers innovate in the EU, make and sell products in the EU and are competitive in non-EU markets.
  2. Ensuring that end users, including SMEs and consumers, benefit from products based on the latest standardised technologies at reasonable prices.

The initiative aims to incentivise participation by European firms in the standard development process and the broad implementation of such standardised technologies, particularly in Internet of Things (IoT) industries. 

The proposal contains the following building blocks.

  1. Establishment of a ‘Competence Centre’ at European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) to administer the elements below (registry, essentiality checks, FRAND determination, SME support services).
  2. SEP registration and essentiality checks: Establishment of an obligatory register where SEP holders record their SEPs, providing details on patent and standard. Selected SEPs are subject to an annual essentiality check.
  3. FRAND determination: This procedure aims to help SEP owners and implementers to agree on a FRAND licence. The FRAND determination of maximum 9 months is mandatory before a SEP owner or an implementer goes to Court thus offering a safe harbour for negotiations without the threat of litigation or delaying tactics. 
  4. SEP aggregate royalty rate: SEP holders and also implementers may  notify the expected maximum aggregate royalty to the Competence Centre. Alternatively, both SEP owners and/or implementers can ask a conciliator to recommend a (non-binding) aggregate royalty.
  5. SME support measures: Free advisory services. Reduced fees for registration of SEPs and for essentiality checks and access to the SEP register. Promoting more favourable FRAND terms and conditions for SMEs.

Webinar series on Standard Essential Patents

We organised a number of webinars on Standard Essential Patents (SEPs) in winter/spring 2021 to take stock of the state-of-play, share some of the ideas developed under recent actions and discuss with stakeholders potential improvements to the framework governing SEPs.

See more on the webinar series on Standard Essential Patents.

2020 action plan on intellectual property

The intellectual property (IP) action plan, ‘Making the most of the EU’s innovative potential - An intellectual property action plan to support the EU’s recovery and resilience’ of November 2020 proposes ways to improve transparency and predictability in the licensing of SEPs. These are key elements for the digital transformation of Europe's industry, such as the roll-out of connected cars and other Internet of Things (IoT) products.

Despite guidance provided in the 2017 Communication ‘Setting out the EU approach to SEPs' (see below), we observe continued friction in the uptake of SEP-protected standards. In addition, the landscape gets more complex as we move to 5G and beyond, and the number of SEPs, as well as the number of SEP holders and implementers, are increasing. Many new players are not familiar with SEP licensing, but need to enter into SEP arrangements. Navigating the SEPs landscape may pose in particular challenges for smaller players, such as SMEs and start-ups active in the IoT. The current system does not offer all the tools businesses need in order to come to fast, effective and fair SEP licensing arrangements. Licensing negotiations take a long time and may end in conflict and litigation, which undermines EU businesses on all sides (notably SEP holders and implementers).