IP in France: help for SMEs


IP in France: help for SMEs

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WIPR spoke to Pascal Faure, CEO of the French IP office, about its work helping SMEs with their IP strategy.

What does your office do to support SMEs with IP, and trademarks in particular?

The French Patent and Trademark Office (INPI), pursues an ambitious awareness-raising and training policy aimed at economic stakeholders, with a particular focus on trademarks.

Our organisational structure aims to be as close as possible to the SMEs and startups.

A specialised call centre has been created to answer a wide range of questions relating to trademarks and IP rights, from the most appropriate protection to online help with our application processes (INPI Direct).

The INPI is also present in each of the country’s metropolitan regions, to create proximity with economic stakeholders and be an integral part of regional ecosystems. For example, the INPI is present within incubators and clusters, such as the Station F Campus, the world’s largest startup incubator.

The INPI’s representatives visit individual companies to define their IP needs and make targeted recommendations.

The INPI has a network of advisors outside France, who are fully conversant with the IP environment of their geographical areas and are in a position to help companies expanding their export businesses or having to deal with infringement issues.

The INPI is present at trade fairs, which usually means running a stand and giving lectures on IP, as well as holding awareness-raising workshops for groups of businesses and/or innovation stakeholders. 

“As the R&D time and time-to-market get shorter, SMEs need to have a more global approach to their IP strategies.”

To encourage the use of IP to drive business competitiveness, the INPI has designed, tested and implemented a support policy for startups, SMEs and innovative mid-cap (market capitalisation value of between $2 billion and $10 billion) companies. This customer-focused offering is based on three products to suit different levels of corporate maturity in terms of IP practices:

The IP pre-diagnosis

This a free pre-diagnosis, which is specifically geared towards the individual company, and provides insight on the stakeholders, risks and costs associated with its IP. It is used to determine possible courses of action and identify the company’s in-house skills for the development of an IP policy. The IP pre-diagnosis is more specifically aimed at those who make little or no use of IP.

The IP Pass

After the pre-diagnosis and in order to implement clearly identified IP actions, an SME can, under certain conditions, have access to the IP Pass, which includes a range of services (up to three, and at reduced cost because half of the service providers’ fees are funded by the INPI). Sixteen different services are available with the pass. Contractual help and support on export protection strategies are two very popular services, especially in the field of trademarks.

The IP Master Class

In order to take its IP strategy a step further, an SME can ask to participate in a Master Class which consists of six days of training spread out over six months as well as the support of an INPI tutor, an IP specialist from a major French company and a number of experts (IP attorneys or IP lawyers).

The training programme comprises collective workshops, a personalised diagnosis and four individual coaching sessions designed to help the enterprise optimise its IP strategy.

As a result of the coaching sessions, the participants are able to develop a trademark culture within the company and use their trademarks as communication and differentiation tools based on a strategy that corresponds to the issues raised by each of their products and services.

We are currently rolling out a startup programme designed to provide free, customised support that corresponds exactly to the needs of startups.

For a minimum of two years, a dedicated IP expert will propose IP action plans to help them in the key stages of their development. At the end of the programme, the performance of the startup’s practices will be assessed and they will receive an innovation support letter.

The support provided is free of charge, customised and ongoing, with a dedicated contact person, so that the company can master the levers of IP and turn it into a strategic tool at every stage of its development, from innovation to international growth.

What are the challenges your SME users typically face?

First, there is the cultural challenge: SMEs must understand the importance of the IP issues involved and take appropriate action, which means they need correct information and IP tools that correspond to their development needs.

As the R&D time and time-to-market get shorter, SMEs need to have a more global approach to their IP strategies and go beyond the notion of patent to include trade secrets, trademarks and designs.

Another notable challenge is to include IP-related costs in their R&D expenditure. This must be done as early as possible and considered to be an investment. 

Can you measure the effectiveness of your approach?

The SMEs are supported over a period of time by a dedicated INPI contact. Regular assessments of their IP practices are carried out with the company at different levels:

  • Filing of IP rights;
  • Actions conducted and the implementation of best practices: contracts, extension of IP filings, confidentiality agreements, etc; and
  • Use of professionals from the innovation ecosystem: IP specialists, attorneys and lawyers; France Brevets, the IP investment fund; the chamber of commerce; financial organisations; etc.

What further plans do you have to support SMEs?

The PACTE Act, voted in by the National Assembly in April, includes important developments in IP: the creation of a provisional patent; the examination of inventive step; the introduction of a right of opposition for patents; the extension of the duration of the utility certificate; the reinforcement of examination and opposition criteria for trademarks; and the creation of a cancellation board, also for trademarks.

The IP offering will be more gradual, more flexible and more accessible to small enterprises and innovative startups, which have fewer tools than large companies. The INPI teams have been working on this project for more than a year, and we are ready and more than enthusiastic about this historic opportunity. With the PACTE Act, companies will be able to choose the tools that match best with their strategy, in terms of range, of duration of issue and of cost.

INPI’s 2018 in numbers: a record year

  • All-time record for trademark applications: 95,419 (a 5.5% increase over 2017)
  • 100% e-filing
  • 87 customer assistants, representatives and delegates in France
  • 30 employees at INPI Direct (national information service)
  • 4,200 visits to companies, including 1/3 to startups
  • 12,000 interviews given by experts in companies, especially startups and SMEs
  • Participation in 107 fairs and numerous seminars and events relating to new business starts, innovation, the digital sector, industry, design, etc
  • 3,330 people benefited from awareness-raising and training actions through the international network
  • Nearly 600 companies benefited from INPI coaching

INPI, SMEs, IP strategy, trademark infringement, stakeholders, innovation, research & development, trade secrets, designs, PACTE Act, provisional patent