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Peter R. Thomsen, President EGIP (economiesuisse) and EPI

Protection of intellectual property - essential for Switzerland as a centre of innovation


The success of the Swiss economy is based to a large extent on innovative strength and comprehensive protection of intellectual property that is also legally secure for third parties. At the international level in particular, there are currently a number of efforts to soften or weaken intellectual property rights.

In September 2023, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) published its Global Innovation Index, which reflects the innovative strength of individual countries based on around 80 criteria. For the 13th time in a row, Switzerland took first place among all 132 economies analysed. Switzerland also came top in the patent index recently published by the European Patent Office (EPO), as Swiss companies, universities and inventors once again filed the most patent applications per 1 million inhabitants with the EPO worldwide in 2023.

Broad-based innovative strength requires intact framework conditions
Even in absolute figures, Swiss applications to the EPO are in third place in Europe with over 9,400 - only applicants from Germany and France were more active - and in seventh place worldwide. These figures impressively demonstrate the innovative strength of the Swiss economy. Moreover, this is based not only on a few large corporations, but also on a larger group of SMEs, many of which are world leaders in their field.

It is therefore all the more important that the framework conditions for the acquisition and enforcement of intellectual property rights remain intact at both international and national level. This is particularly critical for areas in which large investments are made in technical and scientific inventions that, once known, can easily be imitated by competitors, such as in the life sciences/pharmaceuticals, chemical or medical technology sectors.

Milestone reached in strengthening Swiss patent law
A milestone has been reached at national level in the last few weeks: by implementing the motion Hefti 19.3228, the Swiss parliament has passed a significant revision of the Patent Act, which will lead to greater legal certainty for applicants and third parties affected by patents in future. The core of the revision is that - in contrast to the current situation - patents filed with the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property can also be examined for all patentability criteria.

The national patent system will also be made more attractive by the fact that all appeals in the patent area will be judged by the Federal Patent Court, which is made up of specialised judges, and that the English language commonly used in international corporations can be used more easily in patent proceedings. The revision can be expected to be implemented by the end of 2026.

Intellectual property rights under pressure at international level
At international level, Switzerland is currently having to defend itself in various forums against the significant weakening of intellectual property rights - including at the 13th WTO Ministerial Conference, which ended in Abu Dhabi at the beginning of March. There, Switzerland, together with other innovation-friendly countries (e.g. Japan, UK), successfully campaigned to prevent a mechanism whereby all intellectual property rights, in particular patents for diagnostics and therapeutics against COVID-19 infections, could be generally suspended by WTO countries.

This would have been a significant extension of a decision by the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference on COVID-19 vaccine patents, which was already categorised as potentially anti-innovation. The WHO is currently negotiating a global instrument to enable a better coordinated international response to a future pandemic (Pandemic Preparedness Treaty). Even in this treaty, which in itself is to be welcomed, there is a risk that proposals for the forced transfer of technology and expertise by states or international organisations and the suspension of patent rights will be implemented.

It is to be hoped that Switzerland, together with other innovation-friendly countries, will continue to work successfully to ensure that the incentives for innovation that are so important for the Swiss economy continue to exist in the future through solid intellectual property rights and are supplemented where necessary.

Peter R. Thomsen, President of the economiesuisse Expert Group on Intellectual Property (EGIP) and President of the European Patent Institute (EPI)


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