Whether it’s your company’s logo, an artistic work you created, or a jingle for your advertisement, these are all examples of intellectual property (IP) that can give your company a competitive edge. And when you’re hiring in France, it’s crucial to ensure that other people and entities can’t profit from your company’s inventions, trade secrets, designs, and trademarks–or take advantage of cross-border intellectual property loopholes.
IP rights in France are woefully confusing: Intellectual property law is governed not just by the French government, but by the European Union as well. If you fail to properly register your intellectual property, your company’s reputation could be damaged, you could lose profits, and potentially find yourself in a legal battle.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the basics of protecting your intellectual property in France (note: our guide is for informational purposes, and isn’t intended to provide legal advice).
1. NDAs are enforceable in France
Many employers have new employees, business partners, investors, and attorneys sign non-disclosure agreements (also known as NDAs) before they share any confidential information. While French courts have historically upheld NDAs, it’s important to remember how fiercely French laws protect the worker. Under Sapin II, the French anti-corruption law passed in December 2016, employers cannot use the terms of an NDA to retaliate against a whistleblower who reports a crime occurring in the workplace. These laws were further strengthened just last year in 2022–a clear indicator that the French government is still actively cracking down on corruption.
2. If you and your employees or contractors are located in different countries, you need to specify jurisdiction in your NDA
Let’s say you’re in the United States, and you’re expanding your business in France. When you’re drawing up an NDA for a new employee or business partner to sign as part of your IP strategy, it’s crucial you specify whether you’re writing the agreement and adhering to US laws or French laws. That way, if you wind up in a legal battle with the other party, it’ll be clear which nation’s copyright laws and court system can enforce the terms of the NDA. Leaving this information out could result in your case being discarded because the court you filed it in doesn’t know which country’s case laws apply to the agreement.
3. You can only register for patents, trademarks, and design rights
France—and, incidentally, all other member states of the European Union—only provide official registration for trademarks, patents, and designs. Copyrights (say, for a written work) aren’t something you can fill out an application for and receive. Instead, France automatically protects any and all original work, including literary works, films, and so on. Under the French Intellectual Property Code, the owners of copyrighted works benefit from patrimonial and moral rights. The former permits the owner of the work to receive financial gains from it, while the latter ensures the author is respected and recognized. One final note: Copyrights do not include databases. Databases are in a special category of their own.
4. France follows the IP regulations specified by the French government, the European Union, and other multilateral agreements
As a member state of the European Union, France strives to do the most to protect the intellectual property companies and private individuals register in its nation. That’s why the terms of the Intellectual Property Code in France are in sync with those of many other nations. The French government also signed the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works as well as the Universal Copyright Convention of Geneva. Additionally, it adheres to the European Union’s directives on IP protection as well as the regulations of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The agency that oversees and regulates the protection of IP rights in France is called the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI).
So, which one should you file an application with? The answer depends pretty much on where you want your intellectual property to be protected. For example, if you’re only seeking protection for a trademark or design in France, you can obtain the title at the local IP office. But if you register your intellectual property with the European Union Intellectual Property Office, your IP will be protected in all the European Union member states. Keep in mind: The EU still dictates that you follow the local laws of the country you want to do business in.
5. Contractors own the copyright to their work unless it’s part of a collection they contributed to
Under French law, self-employed individuals, or contractors, are generally considered to be the owners of any work they created. There are, however, two exceptions to this largely accepted “rule.” The first is if the terms of the contract of employment the two parties signed give the other party (i.e. not the contractor) the rights to the intellectual property. The second exception: If the work was created as a contribution to a project or collection worked on by many individuals, the self-employed individual isn’t considered the owner.
6. It’s your responsibility to protect your intellectual property
This might seem a little obvious, but it’s crucial you’re aware that it’s your responsibility to register your trademark, design, industrial design, or other intellectual property with the INPI, the European Patent Office, or any other applicable governing agency. Intellectual property rights are not considered a political matter; thus, if you fail to claim exclusive rights to, say, your trade secrets, you will not be able to appeal to the government of your home country for help. Furthermore, note that even if you’re aware of your personal responsibility but you move too slowly to protect your exclusive rights, you may find that your time to patent, copyright, or trademark your work has run out.
Frequently asked questions about IP law in France
Who owns the exclusive rights to intellectual property in France?
France (and the European Union as a whole) operates on a first come, first serve basis when it comes to IP rights. As mentioned previously, under the French Intellectual Property Code, copyrights are granted automatically, but the author of the work must be named for them to claim patrimonial rights. As for patents, trademarks, and designs, whoever fills out the application and registers the item with the appropriate office first is considered the owner.
What intellectual property can be registered in France?
You can register a variety of intellectual property types in France, including, but not limited to:
- Trademarks: You can register a word, symbol, or other quality that defines your company. To register a trademark in France, you must file with INPI; to register in the European Union, you must file with the European Union Intellectual Property Office. Your intellectual property trademark will be valid for 10 years.
- Patents: Once they’re granted, patents are valid for 20 years. The National Industrial Property Office takes care of applications for French patents, while the European Patent Office takes care of applicants who want their IP patented throughout Europe.
- Designs: You can register a design for your company in France with INPI or register it as a “community design” with the European Union Intellectual Property Office. There’s no specific information on how long the registration is valid for. France does however stipulate that the design be both unique and different from the product you’re using it to represent.
- Databases: In order to encourage the growth of and investment in databases, which it saw (correctly) as the future of business, the European Union created special protections for databases many years ago. France, among other European Union member countries, is well aware of how much time, effort, money, and manpower goes into creating a database. It has also strived to allow information to be shared freely via databases while also ensuring their creators benefit financially from them.
What is an IP assignment agreement?
If one party wants to transfer the ownership rights of a copyrighted work, trademark, design, trade secret, or patent to another, they must sign an IP assignment agreement. Also known as an Intellectual Property Assignment Agreement or Patent Assignment Agreement, this official change of ownership needs to be registered with the INPI and must contain, at minimum, the following:
- The identification of the assignor (the party transferring the ownership) and the assignee (the party receiving it)
- The price for the transfer and any other payment information
- Any relevant background information about the parties and a formal declaration that the assignor wants to sell ownership to the assignee
- Exactly what intellectual property is being transferred
- The obligations of each of the parties
- Proof the assignor is the legal owner of the exclusive rights of the intellectual property and is authorized to sell it
- Any future obligations on the part of either party
- Which law and jurisdiction applies to the terms of the contract
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Rippling and its affiliates do not provide tax, accounting or legal advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any related activities or transactions.