World IP Day 2021: SMEs in the spotlight


Muireann Bolger

World IP Day 2021: SMEs in the spotlight

Matusciac Alexandru /

Today marks World IP Day, the theme of which is “IP and SMEs: taking your ideas to market”. The IP world has rallied in pledging commitments to better support and enhance IP knowledge among SMEs—and also to further develop the potential of IP.

WIPR takes a look at some of what has been happening on the international and UK stage, and the challenges confronting SMEs.

WIPO: SMEs are ‘unsung heroes’

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) introduced the annual event in 2000, designating April 26—the date which the WIPO Convention came into force in 1970—as the day each year to raise awareness about the role IP plays in encouraging innovation and in supporting economic, social and cultural development.

In a video address to mark today’s event, WIPO director general Daren Tang described SMEs as an “engine for growth” in a post-pandemic world.

According to Tang, SMEs account for 90% of all companies worldwide and 70% of global employment. But he highlighted the lack of IP awareness within this vital sector of the world economy.

“SMEs are the engines, the unsung heroes of our economy. And yet for many of them, there is still a lack of knowledge about how IP can help them translate their ideas into products, and how IP can be a powerful tool for them to not just survive, but to also compete and grow,” he said.

“SMEs face different challenges in different parts of the world, and how we help them will need to be customised to the needs of your part of the world. But it will be a powerful message for us to send the signal that together we will be supporting them,” said Tang.

Tang, who took office as WIPO's director general in October 2020, has made supporting smaller businesses a priority. In one of his first actions as director general, he established the “IP and innovation ecosystems sector”, with a remit to support SMEs, entrepreneurs and researchers in commercialising IP and using it for business growth.

"Whatever help we can render to our SMEs, will be help that we render to the bedrock of your economy, and the backbone of the global economy. Ultimately, it will help our world to ‘build back better’, after the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

WIPO is also coordinating a global campaign to highlight the importance of intangible assets to SMEs and the value of IP in supporting SMEs to grow.

The organisation has published a series of case studies from around the world telling stories of SMEs that are using IP rights to turn ideas into business opportunities.

UK SMEs ‘failing to protect IP’

According to research by the European Patent Office, companies that own at least one patent, registered design or trademark generate 55% higher revenue per employee than companies that do not own IP rights.

But a study published today by law firm Mewburn Ellis and YouGov showed that UK SMEs have been left increasingly exposed by their failure to protect IP.

The survey of 436 SME decision-makers revealed that only 21% have taken steps to fully protect their IP assets and that a further 22% have only protected their IP assets in part. Of the remaining respondents, 10% did not know whether their business was protecting its IP assets, and 21% did not think that they produced any IP assets at all.

Even among the larger companies polled, awareness of the importance of IP was low, with only 64% businesses stating that they had protected all or some of their IP.

When presented with a list of different IP assets, 56% of SME businesses confirmed that they had domain names, which was the most owned IP right. Only 12% had registered patents and 18% had registered trademarks.

Dan Thornton, patent attorney at Mewburn Ellis, said: “IP should be a core asset to any business. This is for both traditional protection of market position reasons, but also for demonstrating innovation and branding. That ability to provide evidence can be crucial when seeking investment or acquisition, with many investors being acutely aware of the uses and importance of IP assets. Without careful consideration of IP, SMEs risk losing out to competitors on one hand, and losing out on investment and growth opportunities on the other.

He added that SMEs were at the vanguard of the economy in a post-COVID-19 world. “We want to see SMEs succeed. We encourage any business, and in particular an SME, that does not have a considered IP strategy and process to review that position. Make the most of those hard-won IP assets and have them work for the business—both in the marketplace and to drive investment and growth.”

Four out of five SMEs are counterfeiting victims

The study comes as research by brand protection company Smart Protection shows that four out of every five SMEs are victims of counterfeiting on the internet.

The report, “Impact of online counterfeits in SMBs 2021”, also published today, highlights the vulnerable situation of SMEs on the internet, and the need to have an effective and reliable technology that allows them to monitor their products online.

According to Smart Protection, cybercriminals are increasingly focused on SMEs that are usually more vulnerable than large companies. SMEs from the US attract the most attention from cybercriminals. In Europe, the most exposed companies are based in the UK, Italy, and France, closely followed by Spain and Germany.

The company analysed more than 12,000 companies in Europe and North America that sell products online, of which 5,178 are SMEs with between one and 200 employees.

According to the study, 80% of SMEs that sell their products are adversely affected by counterfeits on the internet. Of this percentage, 15% of them suffer from exceptionally high levels, 34% experience what is classed as high values, and 31% are affected in a medium or low way.

The fashion sector is the industry that suffers the most from this illicit activity. It is the sector that tops the ranking of the most counterfeited, while it is also the one with the most SMEs suffering from this problem at a very high level. According to the study, 93% of SMEs in the fashion sector are affected, followed by the electronics sector (82%), sports (79%), homeware (73%), toys (69%), and beauty and personal care (65%).

Javier Perea, CEO of Smart Protection, said: “Counterfeits on the internet are becoming more sophisticated every day. Cybercriminals can quickly select and copy emerging brands that are experiencing notable growth in their digital sales. This has a direct impact on the most innovative products in the portfolio of SMEs. This situation can pose a serious threat to their brand reputation and revenue.”

SIPS 2030: a new chapter for Singapore

To mark today’s event, the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) has unveiled the Singapore IP Strategy (SIPs) 2030, a 10-year blueprint to “strengthen Singapore’s position as a global intangible assets (IA) and IP hub” as well as maintain Singapore’s position as a top-ranked IP regime.

SIPS 2030 is spearheaded by an inter-agency committee comprising more than 10 government agencies developed in consultation with more than 1,000 stakeholders from the legal, financial, professional services and business community over the past 18 months.

Efforts include new IA valuation and financing initiatives to help businesses further their growth.

Virtual aid

To better support SMEs, IP firm Mathys & Squire is marking World IP Day 2021 by hosting a virtual pitching session inviting innovative UK-based startups and SMEs to showcase their business and innovations in front of an expert panel to win a prize of £3,000.

The event is led by the Mathys & Squire Scaleup Quarter, the firm’s one-stop advisory platform focused on assisting businesses and entrepreneurs.

Andrew White, partner at Mathys & Squire, said: “Mathys & Squire is privileged to work with a diverse range of innovative UK startups and SMEs across a broad spectrum of highly dynamic sectors. We are delighted that this year’s World IP Day has been dedicated to highlighting these entrepreneurs and small businesses, whose discoveries and inventions impact our daily lives.

“We’re excited to meet the candidates and learn more about their businesses and journeys through this online pitching session.”

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World IP Day 2021, WIPO, Daren Tang, SMEs, IP, Mewburn Ellis, pandemic, Smart Protection, counterfeits, patents, trademarks, Mathys & Squire