As control of markets and materials becomes as critical as the control of rights to new ideas and innovations, Malta is providing corporations and individuals with excellent opportunities to exploit their Intellectual Property (IP). Whether referring to patents, trade secrets, trademarks, copyrights, designs or even domain names, all of the various assets share one common characteristic: they have a value and have become important growth factors for companies. Building on its experience in corporate structuring and tax planning, Malta’s vision for the future is to become a trusted platform for international IP transactions offering support across the entire IP value chain, including protecting, managing and commercialising ideas and innovations.
A Growing Sector
In presenting itself as an IP hub, Malta is starting from a position of strength. Its legal system protects the full range of IP rights, and the country is a signatory to all major agreements in this field, ensuring the enforceability of IP rights in Malta as well as in other countries. Being a European Union member state also ensures that Maltese law is harmonised with EU standards. IP rights can be filed in, or through, Malta, but due to the market size, the registration of some types of IP rights, such as patents, on the island is relatively low. Despite this, a number of international corporations have discovered the benefits of using Malta to set up dedicated companies that can hold and manage their intellectual property rights worldwide.
IP Holding Company
Separating the core business from the holding and management of IP rights has become increasingly popular in order to fully exploit IP assets. In Malta, an IP holding company may be incorporated as a normal limited liability company registered under the Companies Act, which can hold, license and market any type of intellectual asset, including trademarks, software copyright, brand-names, patents, and designs. Other assets, such as trade secrets, know-how and domain names can also be owned by a Malta company in order to enjoy the same benefits.
The company can enter into licence and franchise agreements with other persons wishing to exploit these rights and may also acquire IP rights from third parties – for instance, in the context of a merger or acquisition, whereby the IP rights are acquired separately as part of the acquisition of the business. This method of structuring means that the IP-holding company can benefit from Malta’s competitive tax regime and will have access to the country’s wide network of double taxation treaties.
Specialist service providers and Malta’s legal firms offer IP owners assistance in developing IP management strategies, providing guidance through all aspects of IP strategy, protection, exploitation, the grant of transfers, licences and acquisitions, as well as the enforcement of IP rights. They can conclude comprehensive portfolio reviews, which flag issues such as business critical intellectual assets that should be protected, conduct searches in databases and registers, manage the registration of IP rights in Malta, as well as in other countries, and liaise with the relevant authorities for clients seeking to protect their creations and ideas. Malta also provides a strong and conducive business environment for companies to manage and trade their IP. In addition, the island boasts lower operational costs than many of its EU peers, while laws and legislation can easily be accessed due to the fact that English is an official language.
Innovation as a Priority
Currently, an effort is underway to introduce amendments to the IP landscape, which do not solely focus on tax-related incentives for companies to bring their IP to Malta. The vision is for Malta to become a place where entrepreneurs and innovators can develop their ideas – in a safe, secure and profitable way. This also includes creating the right environment for them to register the IP, raise capital through IP securitisation and exploit the IP. Moreover, Malta is fostering the growth of sectors such as life sciences, ICT and the creative industries, including the construction of industry and design clusters as well as dedicated infrastructure that facilitates research and innovation. By offering companies a favourable location for the protection and management of their intellectual property, Malta is hoping that once the IP is located on the island, the core business will follow. The aim is to bolster the country’s entire IP economy and support activities across the entire value chain, from the creation to the commercialisation and exploitation of IP.
Registration of IP Rights in, or through, Malta
Applications for patents or designs must be filed with the Office of the Comptroller of Industrial Property. Malta is a signatory to the European Patent Convention (EPC) and the Patent Co-Operation Treaty (PCT). It is also a member of the Agreement for the creation of a Unitary Patent. As a result, applications for patents under these regional and international agreements can also be made to the Office of the Comptroller of Industrial Property in Malta, indicating the countries for which the patent is sought. An application for a trademark must also be filed with the Industrial Property Registrations Directorate. European trademark and design registrations can be obtained from the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).