Why joining NATO could boost intellectual property in the Swedish and Finnish defence industries

Given recent events, the only two Nordic countries that are not currently NATO members, Sweden and Finland, are expressing interest in joining as soon as possible. As countries with developed industries in the defence sector, joining could open up new markets for domestic defence companies within both countries, as well as provide fresh opportunities in the IP space.

A company working within the defence industry must always be aware of the possibility of their government making certain patent applications classified in the interest of national security. Should this happen, an application for a patent outside of the state in which it was originally filed may only be filed with government approval. Furthermore, a classified application may only be filed and prosecuted in countries where government agreements ensure that the secrecy of the patent application will be maintained.

Thus, if an invention relating to defence is determined to be relevant to national security and is deemed classified, the possibility of obtaining protection for it in countries where such agreements are not in place becomes impossible. While a defence company may still have other patents and inventions in their portfolio, having a few inventions classified can put a company working in defence at a significant disadvantage compared to organisations in other fields that are free to file patents internationally.

Within NATO, an agreement to safeguard the secrecy of inventions related to defence originally entered into force in 1961, to ensure that relevant patent applications that are classified in the country of first filing can also be applied for in other NATO member states.

Currently, Sweden has bilateral agreements with only six of the 30 NATO member states: the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Should Sweden and Finland join, entering the agreement on safeguarding the secrecy of inventions, Swedish and Finnish classified defence inventions could soon be patented in all member states. Joining NATO also means that Sweden and Finland will be able to enter research collaborations with NATO countries.

While the ultimate decision to join remains a political one, if Sweden and Finland are accepted into NATO it could open up new markets in which the technologies of Swedish and Finnish defence companies are potentially protected by patents. From an IP rights perspective, this could represent significant potential opportunity for further investment and growth.

This is an Insight article, written by a selected partner as part of IAM's co-published content. Read more on Insight

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