EU eyes tougher measures against foreign industrial espionage

BRUSSELS, Nov 25 (Reuters) - The European Commission is planning tougher measures to prevent foreign countries acquiring European firms’ intellectual property, a move that could strain relations with China, the United States and other trade partners.

Most of the 27-nation bloc’s exports are of goods produced by industries which rely on patents, such as cars and other high-tech products. But outside the EU, there is insufficient intellectual property (IP) protection for EU firms, the European Union executive said.

“Our businesses still face major challenges when operating in third countries, including uneven protection standards, or regulatory frameworks forcing transfer of IP as a de facto pre-condition for accessing local markets,” the Commission said in a document published on Wednesday, hinting at practices that are common in China.

In an action plan which outlines possible future moves, the Commission said it would take stronger measures to prevent foreign nations appropriating EU firms’ intellectual property through research projects, takeovers or outright espionage.

The Commission is developing new rules to regulate cooperation with foreign research labs, it said.

“It will also take a critical look at foreign takeovers targeting critical IP assets,” the document added.

In March, the EU in effect blocked an attempt by the United States to gain access to patents developed by CureVac, a German biotech firm that is pioneering a new technology to produce vaccines.

CureVac’s messenger RNA (mRNA) COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which uses the same technology as shots being developed by U.S. firms Pfizer and Moderna, is one of those booked by the EU and in the shortlist of a global procurement scheme co-led by the World Health Organization for the fight against the new coronavirus.

Brussels also plans to step up its fight against counterfeiting and simplify rules on patents to boost the ability of smaller firms to protect their intellectual property. (Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio , Editing by Timothy Heritage)