“A tool for economic intelligence”

Over 100,000 brands were registered in France in 2020, a record despite the health crisis and an unsettled economy. Yet issues of intellectual property often reflect the image of innovation and are too often poorly known by entrepreneurs and businesses. 

The counter of the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle (INPI) (National Institute of Intellectual Property) records them in real time: over 10.5 million patents, 6.3 million brands and 1.3 million drawings and models are now registered in France. Each year an average of just over 15,000 patents are registered in our country.

Industrial property was institutionalised during the French Revolution and constitutes one of the two branches of intellectual property, along with literary and artistic property – the famous copyright. But it is the only one to have a dedicated office, INPI, a public institution of an administrative nature and upholder of standards for brands and patents. Hélène Gros is its delegate for the area of Sud Nouvelle-Aquitaine: “With INPI, we have a tool that will enable us to forbid or threaten to forbid someone from encroaching upon our property. You could make an analogy with property in real estate: the only person who can live in my property is someone I authorise to do so, either because I sell my apartment - I can sell my patent -, or because I rent it out – that’s a licence -, or because I’m living in it myself when I use my idea for myself. So when you say ‘protect’, that means maintaining a competitive advantage, having a tool that will allow me to negotiate and choose who has the right to make use of my invention or my brand.”

The search for priority 

But before setting about protecting their idea, invention or product, a project leader or entrepreneur must first check that they have in fact the right to do so! Checking what is already in existence therefore requires carrying out documentary research and consulting databases (1). This is called the search for priority. And it is one of the roles of Laurent Fantin, founder of Allici, the industrial property consultancy, and well- known in the ecosystem of the Technopole Pays Basque. As he explains, “I first try to enlighten companies and point out to them whether what they are hoping to do can in fact freely be done, that is, that they don’t risk being sued for counterfeiting. There’s no point in investing €500,000 if you can already find the answer by consulting databases! If you search thoroughly, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel!”

At the Créaluz technology park in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the Vracoop team is very familiar with the issues of industrial property. This young company, which creates physical and digital solutions to facilitate bulk selling in order to reduce the use of throwaway packaging, has filed to patent its brand, as well as that of Mayam, its new trading brand aimed at the large retailers. It has also filed several patents, including an international one, for its hoppers and containers.

 “Proof of being serious”

“When you are a young company,” explains the Director, Sébastien Leflond, “it’s in your interest to come to the market with a product that has its industrial property protected. As far as competition is concerned, this avoids 94% of people wanting to copy you when they come across you at trade fairs or when you talk to them… there will still be 5% who will try to copy you and 1% who, in the end, will succeed, because although they might not manage to copy you, they will distract you. In any case, it enables you to gain time, and also to gain credibility in the market – a patented product shows it is a serious one – and with all your industrial partners.”

“When you innovate,” adds Laurent Fantin, “you’re going to spend money, venture capitalists might invest in you, local authorities might help you, but if you don’t protect yourself when you bring your product to the market, competitors will be able to do the same thing without even having invested in R&D. A patent will allow you to prevent that from happening.”

“An indispensable strategy”

INPI registers an annual average of over 15,000 files for patents. This is sign of the vitality and economic dynamism of our area; the Pyrénées-Atlantiques is the second department in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, after the Gironde, having registered the greatest number of patent requests in 2020, over a hundred, an increase of almost 70% in one year (+ 68% since 2017). “Industrial property enables you to gain market share, to go international, to keep a watch over your property, and to have a useful negotiating tool when you are signing contracts,” states Hélène Gros.”It’s an economic intelligence tool. It also helps you to build an innovative image, it’s a communication tool.”

“There has to be a commercial reality when it comes to a patent,” considers Sébastien Leflond. “You might have the greatest innovation, the best patent, but if there’s no economic sense behind it, you must let it go quickly. The patent is there to validate the player behind the solution. It enables you to become known as a young organisation in a new market. It’s a really indispensable strategy, at least for physical products.”

(1) DATA INPI, on the INPI website, contains the databases of companies, brands, patents and models.

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