BOIP accompanies entrepreneurs in the world of intellectual property (IP)
2020 was a year to remember
2020 was in many ways a challenging year. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the way we live our lives and do business greatly. Many entrepreneurs suffered badly, as they were obliged to close their businesses for extended periods. At the same time, some branches of business had never been busier.
Working from home became the order of the day. New collaborative modes of working emerged, but made it more difficult to maintain inter-personal contact and keep an eye out for each other’s well-being. The pandemic also had repercussions for service provision to our customers. We made every effort last year to keep our employees motivated and our customers well served in challenging circumstances.
Opportunities in the world of IP
The COVID-19 pandemic had unexpected effects for BOIP. Due to the abrupt downturn in demand for goods and services in many cases and the explosive upturn in others, many entrepreneurs had to reinvent their businesses and innovate. Owing to the extreme nature of the situation, people were obliged to abandon well-trodden paths and to come up with creative ideas. This resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of trademarks registered. In addition to processing more applications, BOIP fielded more telephone calls and emails and saw more visitors to its website. It also proactively worked with and facilitated its customers, notably when it came to legal formalities. For instance, we suspended the time limits for pending procedures to avoid unnecessary costs for customers.
However, it is not economic circumstances alone that determine the business climate in which BOIP operates. It has been clear to us for some years now that our customers’ and partners’ expectations play at least as great a role in that. They expect continuous innovation in our field and further digitisation of our services. Those expectations afford us plenty of opportunities to prove our relevance and book successes and in the service of entrepreneurs in the Benelux. We succeeded in leveraging those opportunities as best possible in 2020. In the process, we took great strides in fulfilling our mission, namely: “to make it simple for all entrepreneurs to protect their intellectual property.”
Experts in intellectual property for entrepreneurs and partners
The BOIP strategic plan for 2019-2024 underpins our mission. It ensures that, as an organisation, we are future-ready and able to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. The central focus at all times is sharing our IP expertise with entrepreneurs and with our partners. We have been building on intensive cooperation with various IP partners to help entrepreneurs in the Benelux find their way around the complex world of IP.
What we have achieved
The 2019-2024 BOIP strategic plan rests on 4 pillars: ‘customer focus’, ‘leadership’, ‘operational excellence’ and ‘collaboration’, with ‘happy employees’ at the heart of the edifice. Here are the milestones we reached with respect to each pillar in 2020:
The customer is at the centre of all we do. This pillar is and remains an important one in our strategic plan for very good reason. We share our expertise and assist our customers in obtaining maximum protection for their IP.
Free i-DEPOT Promotion
Our i-DEPOT promotion enabled entrepreneurs to submit their ideas online free of charge throughout the month of June. Why did we run this promotion? Quite simply, it was to give entrepreneurs heart and encouragement and because we believe that new ideas are much needed in extraordinary times, like the year 2020.
2,413 i-DEPOTs were filed. That is as many as five times the number we normally register in a month. We had particularly positive feedback from entrepreneurs on this promotion and our partners, both inside and outside the Benelux, also gave it the necessary exposure.
We also bolstered the i-DEPOT product itself by adding a confidentiality agreement to our services. Entrepreneurs who record their ideas are now able to create and enter into an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement). By doing so, entrepreneurs demonstrate that they are taking measures to safeguard the confidentiality of the contents of their i-DEPOT, and setting conditions on their dealings with others.
Customer journey survey
In 2020 we ran our first ‘customer journey’, a programme that aims to showcase our services from the customer’s perspective. For this initial customer journey, we focused on those we call the ‘IP Unaware’: the entrepreneur who knows nothing, or very little, about IP. This and future customer journeys are part of our ‘Customer Centric Maturity Model’. This is a model which sets out where we are now, and where we want to be.
For many years, BOIP has been organising open Q&A sessions, drop-in clinics and consulting days at the premises of various partners in different locations. From mid-March 2020, all these live events stopped due to the COVID-19 measures. However, we know from experience that many entrepreneurs need to be able to speak to our IP experts in person and so we moved to online sessions and consultations. That worked well: some customers wanted to know whether they were on the right track with their approach to IP; others wanted to know more about protecting an idea, a concept or a name. Among the partners we work with in this area are the Belgian Federal Economic Service (FSP Economy), the Chamber of Commerce, and Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO).
As a market leader in intellectual property, it is essential that we continue to fulfil our leadership role by constantly remaining ahead of the field.
New trademarks register
Operating the trademarks register is one of our core activities. The quality of the register is therefore extremely important, first and foremost for trademark-system users, of course. In July 2020, we introduced a new trademarks register that harnesses AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology with respect to figurative marks. This technology enables us to exploit the data in the register more easily, and thus provide even better service to our customers.
The improved functionalities for the customer are as follows:
- The customer can search directly for similar trademarks by uploading an image;
- The customer can perform a simple search from just one search field;
- For modifications, the customer can click directly through to the trademarks concerned or search for BOIP refusal decisions.
Webinars for professionals
Every year BOIP organises various live events for IP professionals with a view to sharing knowledge. As a result of the COVID-19 measures, we held three webinars in 2020 which covered the following topics: the BOIP cancellation procedure, case law from the Benelux Court of Justice, an update on the roll-out of the Trademark Package and the new Guidelines on Refusals (guidelines for examination on absolute grounds) that were introduced at the end of 2020. Participants were able to ask questions via chat and the speakers answered them all at the end of each webinar. You can find the presentations from the webinars on our website.
The webinars drew:
- approximately 400 participants;
- an average rating of 8.25.
BOIP All Stars knowledge management
BOIP is an expert in the field of IP and we want to keep it that way. We are well aware that knowledge is one of our employees’ most important assets, and yet that that knowledge is sometimes only stored in their heads. This is why the “BOIP All Stars” programme has been developed. The programme enables employees to share knowledge with each other and to learn new things together. The overarching aim is to equip each staff member to help customers even better than before and to see themselves as ambassadors for our organisation. We started the first part of the programme in 2020: ‘Be a star in the world of intellectual property.’ For this we coupled ‘IP buddies’ with ‘IP mentees’ from different departments to exchange knowledge with each other. We will continue rolling out the programme in 2021.
We are working on perfecting the services we deliver to our customers, by constantly improving our technologies and processes.
ISO 27001 Certification
Reports of hacking, viruses and digital fraud are making headlines in the news almost weekly now. Information security is becoming increasingly important, both for individuals and for businesses. So for BOIP it was an absolute must to achieve ISO 27001 certification, a world-recognised standard for information security. We were awarded the certificate in May 2020, thereby receiving confirmation that our information security is in good order for each of our processes. As a result, we can provide our customers the extra guarantee that their details are safe with us. Our auditor determined that we have a high level of awareness of the subject. He was also impressed by the physical measures we have put in place to protect the availability, integrity and confidentiality of our services.
Our business operations have a very limited impact on the environment, we are nevertheless aware of our ecological footprint and are continually looking out for sustainable solutions when it comes to service provision. In 2020, we took several steps to further diminish our impact on the environment.
The volume of our waste has decreased by 30%. This figure takes account of the lower occupancy of our office space due to COVID-19 measures. We have also reduced the number of waste collections, which means less CO2 is emitted due to logistics.
Finally, in 2020, we started investigating how we can make the facades and installations of our building more sustainable over the 2021-2022 period. We can further reduce our energy consumption by deploying sustainable installations and equipment.
We place a great deal of value on collaboration, both among colleagues and with our partners. Good results were also achieved on this front in 2020.
Collaboration in the Benelux
In 2020, BOIP invested heavily in cooperation with various IP partners in the Benelux countries, focussing in particular on trademarks and designs. We also stepped up cooperation with the national authorities of the Benelux countries in respect of IP promotion.
In the Netherlands, BOIP participates in the IP platform. This is a joint venture between BOIP, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, the Netherlands Patent Office (part of the Netherlands Enterprise Agency), the Chamber of Commerce and the Board for Plant Varieties. The platform was set up to enable the platform members to inform entrepreneurs in the Netherlands of the importance of IP for their business, brand, product or service and to do so collectively. In 2020, the platform members drew up a joint communications strategy, and began preparations for a major national campaign in the Spring of 2021.
In Belgium, BOIP collaborates closely with the Federal Economic Service (FSP Economy). In 2020, the two organisations launched a joint study which is being carried out by the University of Leuven. Researchers from the university are analysing data on intellectual property rights (IPRs) and combining it with company details. The result will be a sort of blueprint of Belgian SMEs (small and medium-sized businesses) having little or no knowledge of or experience with IPRs. The Belgian Federal Economic Service and BOIP will use the results to develop a joint communications strategy.
In Luxembourg, BOIP is collaborating with the Ministry of the Economy and with IPIL, the Institut de la Propriété Intellectuelle Luxembourg. Together, we are facilitating entrepreneurs in Luxembourg in IP matters.
Collaboration with EUIPO
As in previous years, we collaborated actively with EUIPO (the European Union Intellectual Property Office) and with other national services. In 2020, the new EUIPO strategic plan (SP2025) was implemented. This plan accords an important role to collaboration with the European Union Intellectual Property Network (EUIPN), and focuses specifically on SMEs.
BOIP is participating in the EUIPO working group ‘Support to SMEs’ (ECP6). The remit of this working group is to increase awareness of IP and of the benefits of IP protection for SMEs, not least for strengthening their competitive position. The idea is also to make it easier for SMEs to register their IP thanks to specially developed products.
In the Autumn of 2020, another working group began developing a new tool to support our examiners in their work: the Integrated Multiple Assessment Solution (IMAS). This tool will assist examiners in their tasks, for instance with assessments for refusals on absolute grounds. IMAS uses artificial intelligence and utilises past decisions systematically to support the examination process. This helps make decisions more consistent and predictable.
What else have we been doing with our partners? BOIP regularly consults with the Benelux Association for Trademark and Design Law (BMM) and provides input for their newsletter. In 2020, BOIP also developed French-language versions of the ideeSCAN and ThatsIP. Among other things, we also organised several digital workshops and webinars with the Netherlands Patent Office, the Chamber of Commerce and Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO).
Happy employees is the key to success
A successful organisation stands or falls on the level of satisfaction and engagement of its employees. In 2020, we introduced the concept of ‘happy employees’. BOIP would never have achieved the success it has without satisfied and enthusiastic employees. The employee is the most important factor of – and the actor for – change. That is why we invest a great deal in our personnel.
Focus on talent management
The aim of talent management is to ensure that as an organisation BOIP has the right talent on board to be successful, future-proof and competitive. With this in mind, in 2020 we made preparations to work with the Gallup talent programme CliftonStrengths. This is a well-known instrument that has already helped more than 19 million professionals worldwide to identify, develop and appreciate their strengths. The instrument gives staff members personal insight that enables them to achieve their own goals and their team goals, as well as the goals of their organisation. The aim is for each BOIP employee to know where his or her talents lie and how he or she can make optimum use of them. The programme will be further rolled out in 2021.
In March 2020, BOIP staff started working from home en masse as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a big change for BOIP. To keep our employees engaged and motivated, we invested a great deal in communication and organising activities such as:
- online staff events;
- surveys to gauge the well-being of our employees;
- sharing tips and practical information over the intranet.
We also invested in promoting a positive mindset and the physical health of our employees. Over the course of the year, we sent small tokens of appreciation to our employees and we offered various opportunities to take part in online sport and yoga lessons. In addition, focus was given to the Personal Business Plan. This plan helps employees determine themselves how they can best achieve (more) satisfaction at work, both mentally and physically.
Our ambitions for 2021
Well, we are already a good way into 2021, and are working steadily on implementing the BOIP strategic plan for 2019-2024. As it happens, 2021 is a special year for BOIP: it was 50 years ago, on 1 January 1971, that the Benelux Trademarks Office opened its doors. We see our 50th anniversary as a great opportunity to bring our strategic goals to the attention of a wide audience. But we are going to do (even) more than that!
Our awareness campaign
Together with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy, the Chamber of Commerce, the Netherlands Patent Office and the Board for Plant Varieties, we will launch an awareness campaign in 2021. The requisite preparations were all made in 2020. The campaign will emphasize the importance of IP for entrepreneurs in the Netherlands and will illustrate how IP can give them the wherewithal to boost their market position.
IPpreneur provides answers and solutions
IPpreneur is a project in which BOIP collaborates with four IP partners in the Netherlands and Belgium. These are the Belgian Federal Economic Service (FSP Economy), Flanders Innovation & Entrepreneurship (VLAIO), Sowalfin and the Netherlands Patent Office. The parties are working on developing a tool with which entrepreneurs – especially those who know little about IP – can quickly and easily find answers to the questions, and solutions to the situations, that arise most frequently. The plan is to launch the tool in the Autumn of 2021.
New Director from Luxembourg
The recruitment process for a new Deputy Director General from Luxembourg is currently underway. The Deputy Director General will be responsible for customer services, marketing and (corporate) communication. We expect the new Director take up his or her post in the course of 2021.
The Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP) is the official body responsible for registering trademarks and designs in the Benelux. In addition, BOIP can record the existence of an idea as at a specific date in an i-DEPOT. More about BOIP
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