Sunday

25th Feb 2018

Magazine

EU intellectual property office puts Alicante on the map

Five kilometres north of Alicante airport in Spain is the EU's Intellectual Property Office's (EUIPO) headquarters.

Along the coastline, the EUIPO building offers a panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea. Presently, there are roadworks which make for stop-and-go traffic on one of the main routes to enter the city. But once completed, a new bicycle lane will be in place, connecting Alicante and the EU agency.

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  • EUIPO's presence in Alicante represents 2,400 qualified jobs worth €376 million. (Photo: Les Haines)

EUIPO, currently the largest EU agency in terms of staff (913), is responsible for trademark and design registrations in the EU. It issues titles, which are applications for trademarks that have been registered and accepted, that are valid in all EU countries, a market of more than 500 million consumers - at least until the UK leaves.

The EUIPO building has an imposing facade of glass and concrete, but on the inside it is bright and full of open space. The exterior hosts plenty of green areas, and the view is only disrupted by the ongoing construction of the third office extension, which is set to accommodate the learning centre and the European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights by October 2017.

This European Observatory has its annual plenary meeting on Wednesday (27 September) and Thursday.

Socio-economic footprint

Antonio Campinos, the executive director of EUIPO, once stated that 42 percent of the economic activity and a third of all jobs in Europe depend on companies that make extensive use of industrial and intellectual property rights. But what is the socio-economic footprint left by the agency itself in the Spanish region where it is based?

The construction of the third extension is an obvious way of assessing the impact of the agency on the region. EUIPO's new building will cost €13.7 million for 14,000 square metres of office space. But EUIPO needed to launch an EU-wide tender to get the job done.

"The awarded provider can be a joint venture made up of different companies with different nationalities", said Luis Berenguer, head of communications at EUIPO.

EUIPO's office seen from above (Photo: EUIPO)

Although many may think that local companies hold a logistical advantage, there were no guarantees that the contract would be awarded to any of them. In the end, the tender was given to a firm with an office in Alicante, but headquartered in Madrid. EUIPO has not kept records of how often tenders have been awarded to a local company.

Sometimes the agency has a very direct impact on the region, like when it purchased a stretch of road from the Alicante municipality in 2016. The €250,000 price tag, however, only represented 0.001 percent of the municipality's €246 billion income that year.

Ecosystem

Another way to look at the agency's regional impact is to take into account the knowledge and expertise it brings to the area.

A 2015 study by the Chamber of Commerce of Alicante showed that EUIPO's presence in the area represents 2,400 qualified jobs worth €376 million - up by 26 percent since 2013.

According to the report, EUIPO's presence in Alicante has affected the region on different levels - socially as well as economically. The location of the agency in Alicante boosted an entire ecosystem of goods, services, capital, education and qualified professionals.

An entire intellectual property (IP) ecosystem has grown around EUIPO. "For example, the only Trademark Court in Spain is situated in Alicante, as a result of the office's presence here", Berenguer told EUobserver. "Many important law firms that deal with intellectual property matters opened branches in Alicante", he said.

Berenguer, a native of Alicante, considered the office's location "a very good fit" as Alicante "has always been a very international city". Nevertheless, he added: "It's fair to say that no matter what seat had been chosen for our office back in 1993, the same effect would have occurred".

Defend to the death

Ximo Puig, the president of the regional government of Valencia, has described EUIPO as "the most important European agency in the Mediterranean" and underlined its presence in the region as "our connection to a project that we defend to the death - that is Europe". This view is shared by Adrian Ballester Espinosa, an official at the county council of Alicante, who told EUobserver that "EUIPO helps the province to identify itself more with Europe".

Gabriel Echavarri, the mayor of Alicante, emphasised the importance of the agency for the city. "One can realise its importance when travelling to Brussels. There you find out that everybody knows where Alicante is because it is home to EUIPO," said Echavarri in an interview. He added that "Alicante would not be the same in any sense without EUIPO".

The socio-economic impact of EUIPO in the region is positive, although limited. As Berenguer said, "We are happy to see the city is growing and developing, but the objective of EUIPO is not, and should not be, to transform the city or the province".

The EU agency illuminates Alicante on the map - pushing the city beyond tourism, good food and long beaches - and makes it a bit more European.

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2017 Regions & Cities Magazine.

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