Joff Wild

A new financing and advisory mechanism to help innovative European SMEs secure high-quality patents and build effective portfolios will be rolled out across Europe in 2019, it was revealed today. The creation of Patent Factory Europe (PFE) was announced at the IP Europe Annual SME Summit, taking place in Brussels. It will be run by IP Europe and French sovereign fund France Brevets, with additional funding being provided by Qualcomm.

PFE has two objectives: to help SMEs bridge the period between their creation as start-ups and access to their first and following Series A and B rounds of venture capital investments; and to support the success of existing and forthcoming EU innovation initiatives by providing a gateway to funding.

In helping start-ups and SMEs to build strong patent portfolios, PFE will support their continued growth by ensuring the protection of innovative technology, products and services. It will also enable SMEs to raise capital to support their development and sustain growth without being forced to sell either equity or even the business as a whole to larger, potentially non-European, entities.

The scheme will be open to all fast-growing SMEs and start-ups in Europe at all stages of their development (from seed financing to intermediate growth stages), with specified and clearly-defined IP needs. PFE representatives will negotiate a pre-determined budget with external advisory services and patent counsel then fund the costs associated with developing the patent portfolio for up to 24 months.

“We see intellectual property as a catalyst for new start-ups, SMEs and economic growth in Europe, and this is why we are providing funding with early stage research programmes for the benefit of the European SME eco-system,” explained Alex Rogers, Qualcomm executive vice president and president of Qualcomm Technology Licensing. “Qualcomm and France Brevets are working together to enable companies of all sizes across the continent to benefit from 5G innovation”.

The principles behind PFE are based on the Patent Factory programme that France Brevets launched in 2015. Through this, the sovereign fund partners with high-potential French SMEs and start-ups to help them structure their intellectual property strategy. It has already been pivotal in the creation of 169 families of new patents and has helped the growth of innovative businesses such as Secure IC (cyber-security), Netatmo (connected objects), Energysquare (wireless charge technology) and Vitirover (solar-powered grass-cutting robot technology).

As part of the programme, France Brevets sends its experts into companies and research institutes, and works in close contact with their teams, to help them define which assets to patent according to what is most relevant for the implementation of their business models, while assisting them in the written preparation and filing of patents in France and internationally. All intellectual property costs are taken on by France Brevets.

“The ingenuity of our engineers is our foundation, but Secure-IC’s growth story would have been very different without our partnership with France Brevets. The co-investment approach we adopted together, and the IP-driven strategy they provided, helped us to successfully navigate the many early challenges of young innovative and fast-growing businesses. It’s great news for other innovative European SME’s that they will be able to access these services too through a new European vehicle,” Hassan Triqui, CEO of Secure IC, told IAM.

This looks like a smart move by IP Europe – which is a group of IP-rich, R&D-based European businesses that lobbies hard for strong patent protection in Europe – as well as France Brevets and Qualcomm. It comes at a time when there is an intense battle going on in Europe, and elsewhere in the world, to shape the forthcoming 5G FRAND and SEP environment.

Although it is essentially a fight between large originator and implementer companies, the proxy war in Europe at least is being fought at the SME level. This is largely because both sides realise that the importance of SMEs to the European economy means that their fate is what grabs the Commission’s attention. Not only does the PFE project demonstrate that IP owners are willing to invest time and money to help start-ups and SMEs develop portfolios that will build value and create business flexibility, but it also emphasises more generally just how important strong IP rights are to small and start-up European technology businesses. The clear message here is that you mess with them at your peril.