Nicoletta Favaretto
Senior Project Officer – EUROCHAMBRES

The Smart City World Congress and Expo (SCWC) is a global event on smart cities and their interconnected sectors: mobility, urban planning, energy and environment. Under the motto cities made of dreams, the 9th edition of SCWC took place between the 19th and the 21st of November in Barcelona, Spain. More than 24,000 participants and 1,010 exhibitors attended the event, representing more than 700 cities.  They gathered in Fira Barcelona Gran Via to connect and debate, present latest state-of-the-art solutions and close cooperation agreements.

Why did the Latin America IPR SME Helpdesk attend the SCWC?

It was crucial for the Helpdesk to attend the expo given the growing demand for technology-based solutions and the high level of innovation in the smart city sector, along with the increasing relevance that this topic has recently had in Latin America. The Helpdesk’s objectives were mainly to raise awareness on the importance of protecting intellectual property (IP) among participating European countries, as well as other associated countries; and to present the Helpdesk’s free support services on IP. Certainly, at the fair, one could breathe innovative ideas, first insights and researches turning into realities, as well as hundreds of handshakes that suggested possible future international cooperation and potential partnerships.

The Helpdesk took part in the exhibition in different ways. We had individual meetings with companies and clusters in the framework of the brokerage event organised by the Enterprise Europe Network of Catalunya. We showcased the services and resources offered by the Helpdesk on a designated stand, together with the China and Southeast Asia IPR SME Helpdesks. Finally, the Helpdesk concept and services were presented during a pitching session focused on start-ups.

Expos like this are the perfect setting to explain the advantages of using free expert and confidential advice on intellectual property to Small and Medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). We want European companies to safely and competitively do business with third countries by making them aware that they have business value because of their intangible assets, as well.

How is Latin America doing in terms of smart cities?

Latin American markets represent a real prospect for European companies. Countries like Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Costa Rica and Panama are investing in smart city technologies. Latin American regions and municipalities are looking for specific answers to tackle problems linked to urban planning and mobility, waste management and climate change issues. Therefore, businesses offering IT solutions to improve the public transport system and traffic monitoring, energy efficiency and smart grids technologies, IT platforms for smart cities and waste management technologies can have access to tangible opportunities in the region. Furthermore, overseas partnerships with peer companies or universities for the development of innovative R&D projects could also take place. Have a look at our infographic on smart cities.

Do European companies have an interest in Latin America and what level of IP awareness do they have?

The answer to the first question is yes and here are some examples.

There are SMEs with an already sufficient level of IP knowledge, which contact the Helpdesk for assistance in the planning of an IP strategy to sell products in Latin America. The Spanish company we met on the first day is a good example. The owner contacted the Helpdesk because in the past edition of the SCWC he started negotiations with Latin American counterparts that were interested in his products. However, potential deals are on hold due to issues linked to intellectual property, among other reasons. He was already well acquainted with the IP jargon; he was aware of the trade mark research and registration procedures, as well as of the existence of the Patent Cooperation Treaty PCT (a treaty that provides a unified procedure to file patent applications so as to protect inventions in all signatory countries).

He told us that their PCT priority application could no longer be used to introduce their invention in Latin America and they did not have enough funds to do it this way, that is why he asked us for advice for a Plan B, with Intellectual Property. Our IP expert presented him an alternative: Trade Secrets. A Trade Secret is any confidential commercial or industrial information that confers a competitive advantage to a Company. Bear in mind that your information must: 1) be secret, 2) have some economical value, 3) and you must take reasonable steps in order to keep it secret (e.g. signing NDAs with partners and employees).

Other companies have no familiarity with the intellectual property subject and refer to the Helpdesk for basic questions. For instance, in an exchange with a Turkish small business working in the field of smart lighting system systems − interested in Chile and Brazil−the concept of territorially (in other words, the protection of your IPR is limited  to the territory of the country which grants it)of IPRs and of the trade mark registration procedures in both countries were clarified.

Businesses are not the only ones that have an interest in IP protection in Latin America. Clusters, too: they easily recognise the relevance that IP has and the valuable opportunity offered to them in order to complement their internationalisation support services thanks to free expert advice on IP protection for EU companies in foreign countries.  At SCWC we met several cluster representatives in the field of ICT, energy and mobility. We discussed with them an offer of a free joint training session on IP and technology transfer in Latin America designed for their members. (Check our collaborators programme).

The Smart City World Congress was also a success because of the participation of innovative SMEs. The Helpdesk is available to support them in the protection of the intellectual property component of their project, which is also a relevant part of the dream that involved hours of work in the design, prototype, network and research for finance, and to which the risk of an intellectual property infringement could cause major damages.

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