Torino Internazionale | The Patents library


Mariangela Ravasenga, Patlib Centre, Torino Chamber of Commerce


The term intellectual property (IP) designates all creative work: inventions, literary and artistic works, and the symbols, names and images used in commerce and trade. IP covers a wide variety of aspects ranging from the concept of industrial property to the rights of authorship.

Methods of protecting IP are numerous, regulated by various sets of rules and concern specific aspects of IP. Patents for industrial inventions protect technical innovations; industrial design models protect aesthetic innovations; distinctive signs and marks defend distinctive innovations; and the right to authorship safeguards creative innovation.

In an economic world characterised by the speed of its technological progress, a country with a solid IP culture will also find increased competition amongst its entrepreneurs and scientific institutions. The global economic equilibrium has been redesigned by communication and information systems which considerably reduce distances across space and time, and which quickly replace even recent designs and models. In an entrepreneurial context like this, the real wealth of a company consists in its knowledge, while its innovation is based on the acquisition and exchange of this knowledge and experience, so that the immaterial portfolio of the company, which includes marks, designs and patents, can produce return if the entrepreneur develops an understanding of its importance in both economic and technical terms.

Nonetheless, in 2004 Torino registered 5,395 national applications, and the European Patent Office (EPO) received 3,998 applications for European patents submitted by Italian firms, corresponding to 3.23% of total annual deposits. Of these, 151 came from Torino-based companies. As regards deposits of EU designs, in the period 2003-2004 the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market recorded 14,027 applications submitted by Italian firms (14.84% of the total). In the 2004 competition league table, Italy came in at fifty-first place, with an innovation index equal to 2.43, while the United States, for example, came in at 7.29.

These figures indicate the extent to which the enterprise culture in Italy has managed to survive on a low level of innovation, owing to its failure to focus on the conduction and protection of research. Only 14% of Italian companies employ management with specific patenting responsibilities (as against the 53% European average and the 82% for Scandinavian countries) and only 48% of companies have a detailed strategy regarding IP.

From the late seventies onwards, the EPO has been developing a project for opening access to patent documentation by providing computer access to archives and creating the Patent Library (Patlib) Info Centres, a documentary network which today exists in 31 countries and has over 300 document structures.
Its aim is to disseminate patent culture, increase awareness with regard to the protection of industrial property, and provide information for depositing European and international patent applications (Patent Cooperation Treaty-PCT).

Most of the 20 Patlib centres in Italy operate within the chamber of commerce system. The Torino centre is, in fact, the only one in a documentation facility with specialised personnel and a constantly updated documentation centre, embracing all available resources either directly or through the protection of intellectual property.

Dealing above all with SMEs, economic operators, university researchers and professionals in the sector, the service, as well as giving access to descriptions and images of the inventions registered, has the additional responsibility of monitoring the technological status of individual sectors at an international level. This is an important task, intended to provide savings in terms of resources in order to allow for more research, given that 30% of European research each year merely repeats studies that have already taken place.

A vast and composite collection of patent information is particularly useful to small and private enterprises who wish to source potential partnerships abroad, gain access to EU funding for enterprise, and grant licences to third parties for the use of patents in exchange for royalties.

Since patenting culture is not yet a fully-fledged part of the collective cultural consciousness, the Torino Patlib Centre has offered free seminars on patent "literacy" to the three Piedmont universities, the European Institute of Design, and to associations such as Torino Wireless, API Torino, ADI, Environment Park and Convey. These are aimed primarily at researchers and students, offering learning opportunities to the entrepreneurs of the future.