- The phrase "soft intellectual property" has other meanings, see soft intellectual property.
Soft IP or soft intellectual property is a proposed system that would enable to capture and protection of IP, with provision for making licenses available to all interested parties. This is particularly applicable to patents.
It is defined for situations involving the innocent infringement of a patent. An innocent infringer is one
- who did not know of the patent or
- could not reasonably be expected to have known of the patent and
- who would be willing to take a license, but might be irreparably harmed if they were subject to an injunction that stopped use of the patented invention.
The term "Soft IP" was first used at the European Patent Forum in Munich in April 2007. At this conference, the European Patent Office published a report about their work on four scenarios which are considered to describe the most likely developments in the area of intellectual property. One of these scenarios (called Blue Skies) shows a novel idea called “Soft IP”, a new form of IP.
In the field of patents there is effectively a Soft IP system in UK and Germany where patents may be endorsed "Licenses of Right" (LOR).
A Licence of Right is not a compulsory license to use the patented invention. A patent may, at the request of the patent owner, be endorsed LOR in the UK and/or Germany. The request is made by the patent owner to the German Patent Office or UK Intellectual Property Office. As a "reward" for doing so, the annual renewal fees for the patent are reduced by 50%. Any person wishing to obtain a license may approach the patent owner and agree terms for the license, and only if unable to agree is it necessary to apply to the appropriate national patent office or court to have the terms settled. The terms of the license, in particular the royalties to be paid for using the invention, are normally on the basis of willing licensee/willing licensor informed by actual licensing practice and where they exist, licenses entered into voluntarily by the patentee.
Provisions for LOR have been included in the proposals for the European Community Patent.
- EPO web site, Europe well-positioned in eco-innovation, determined to become world leader, Press releases, May 7, 2008. Consulted on March 14, 2009.
- The European Patent Forum 2009 - http://www.epo.org/about-us/events/epf2009.html
- EPO Blue Skies scenarios - http://www.epo.org/topics/patent-system/scenarios-for-the-future/scenario4.html