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100 years of protecting innovation in Poland. Until now...

On November 26th, I had the honour of attending the jubilee gala marking the 100th anniversary of the Polish Patent Office. It took place in the wonderful Grand Theatre in Warsaw, and was attended by some 1.500 Polish and international guests. This special occasion has inspired my reflections on Poland’s commitment to value innovation and continued reliance on IP to build the country’s economy throughout its complicated history – from the short-lived period of independence after 1918, to the establishment of the communist rule in 1945 and once again after reclaiming freedom in 1989.
 
It is worth noting that the Polish Patent Office – a key institution guarding IP rights of inventors – was established in December 1918 – nearly immediately after Poland regained its independence. Indeed, patent offices are one of the key institutions which exert influence on the creation of conditions for the development of innovative economy. Considering economic and social challenges facing the new state, Poland also entered into the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property on 10th November 1919, joining international cooperation in this field. On 24th of April 1924, the first patent for a “device for reducing coal dust” was granted to a German company “Maschinenbau – Anstalt Humboldt”. Just during the interwar period, the Office received 135.027 applications and granted 29.541 patents for inventions, making the Patent Office a crucial institution of the Polish economic life.[1]
 
After the fall of communism in 1989, Poland underwent sweeping political and economic changes resulting in opening up to international cooperation and building a competitive market economy. This was also an impetus for more foreign investment and scientific collaborations, resulting in dissemination of know-how and building up a local science infrastructure. With the accession to the Patent Cooperation treaty (PCT) in 1991, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1994[2], and many other international frameworks, Poland has reached another milestone. The accession to the European Patent Organization in 2004, and the intensive cooperation with the European Patent Office (EPO), positioned Poland as a country that considers IP protection as a vital tool for economic development.
 
According to the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC)[3], four factors determine the location choice of R&D activities by biopharmaceutical companies who carefully weigh these factors before taking a decision to invest in a specific location, one of them being Intellectual Property protection.[4] Indeed, Poland has recognized that only in a conducive business environment that respects IP protection will entrepreneurs be ready to invest in solutions based on novelty, which is a prerequisite for the increase of competitiveness and entrepreneurship, economic and social development in a broader sense, growth of jobs, improving life standards, and a better exploitation of various resources.[5]
 
Poland’s bright outlook has attracted many global innovative pharmaceutical companies which contribute to the Polish economy and society through research and development (R&D) activities, manufacturing, and ultimately bringing medicines to patients. In 2016, the R&D carried out in Poland amounted to 289 million euro.[6] Of the 16 companies that participated in a 2017 research by INFARMA, 5 have their own clinical research centers in Poland (Amgen, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, MSD, Roche). The same study revealed that the total added value in the economy created by just these 16 companies is higher than the costs incurred by the National Health Fund for reimbursement of their medicines sold in Poland.[7]
 
Poland’s ambition is clearly evolving and growing increasingly focused on building an innovative economy. Yet, compared to the rest of Europe, the level of innovation in the Polish economy is relatively low, as evidenced in the 2018 European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS).[8] The fact that the future of the Polish economy and its pace of development is closely related to betting on innovation was recognized by the Government’s Strategy for Responsible Development,[9] adopted in February 2017. One of its objectives is to effectively strengthen the potential of the pharmaceutical industry in Poland. The Strategy underlines the importance of increasing R&D in the pharmaceutical sector in Poland, including work related to the discovery of new active substances and clinical trials.
 
These ambitious goals are, however, jeopardized by some recent policies that have gained the Polish Government’s support. One particular is the recently proposed SPC manufacturing waiver. It is at odds with the long tradition of respecting and rewarding innovative input and will unlikely serve the ambition of building stronger local innovation base. In fact, the signal that Poland – jointly with other EU countries – is willing to weaken its IP framework, may discourage the innovative industry from investing in Poland or more broadly in the EU at large. Moreover, innovative biotech SMEs fear the impacts that such a waiver can have on their competitive edge. Importantly, the Copenhagen Economics study[10] states that by making R&D investments in the pharmaceutical industry more attractive in general, the SPC system has supported the objectives of attracting and retaining innovation in the EU and ensuring sufficient protection to re-invest in R&D.[11]
 
Looking back at my country’s remarkable development after 1989, I hope that the Polish Government will stay on the right track and build on its commitment to stimulate and protect innovation, for the benefit of Polish economy and, by extension, all citizens. Changing a carefully balanced IP framework should not be done at the expense of the future innovations. Even more so, when the current system has worked well.

[1] Kwartalnik Urzedu Patentowego RP, “The Patent Office of the Republic of Poland – Historical Outline”, Numer 5/39/2018, Available at: https://www.uprp.pl/uprp/_gAllery/96/14/96147/kwartalnik_100_lat_wydanie_specjalne.pdf
[2] Which resulted in the adoption of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement).
[3] JRC Policy Brief, “Boosting the EU's Attractiveness to International R&D Investments: What Matters? What Works?” Available at:
http://iri.jrc.ec.europa.eu/documents/10180/12238/Boosting%20the%20EUs%20attractiveness%20to%20international% 20R%26D%20investments
[4] The three others being: 1) Market potential, including an advanced healthcare system, that fosters diffusion of, recognises and rewards innovation; political stability and the respect for the rule of law; and R&D-related tax incentives; 2) Quality of R&D personnel, including highly skilled and trained human capital; 3) University collaboration, including academic research centres with robust programmes of collaboration with the private sector and well-functioning technology transfer offices.
[5] Kwartalnik Urzedu Patentowego RP “The Importance of Industrial Property Protection and the Activity of the Patent Office of the Republic of Poland for the development of modern economy”, Numer 5/39/2018, Available at: https://www.uprp.pl/uprp/_gAllery/96/14/96147/kwartalnik_100_lat_wydanie_specjalne.pdf
[6] EFPIA, “The Pharmaceutical Industry in Figures 2018”.
[7] INFARMA, “Wpływ na gospodarkę i potencjał rozwoju branży innowacyjnych firm farmaceutycznych w Polsce”, 2017, Available at: https://www.infarma.pl/assets/files/2017/Raport_INFARMA_Wplyw_na_polska_gospodarke_2017.pdf
[8] European Innovation Scoreboard 2018, Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/growth/industry/innovation/facts-figures/scoreboards_en
[9] Strategy for Responsible Development, 2017, Available at: https://rio.jrc.ec.europa.eu/en/library/strategy-responsible-development
[10] In 2017, the European Commission (EC) awarded Copenhagen Economics (CE) the task of carrying out the study “on the economic impact of supplementary protection certificates (SPCs), pharmaceutical incentives and rewards (“CE study”). One of the key objectives of the study was to assess the impact of SPCs and other incentives and awards on innovation, availability, and accessibility of medicinal products for patients in the EU as well as their impact on the sustainability of health system. The Study would be one of the inputs for the Commission’s decision on whether to revise the existing SPC framework.
[11] CE study, p. 178

Ania Jedrusik

Ania Jedrusik currently works as IP Policy Manager at the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and...
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