By William E. Bird
The Early Years
The first LES Benelux Licensing Course was held in 1998 and similar courses were held in 2001 and 2003. These courses were designed to go through the whole of the licensing process in two days. The courses consisted of experienced speakers on a range of subjects such as patent, trademark and copyright protection and litigation, biotech licensing, European licensing law, asset management, commercial aspects of innovation, tax implications, as well as license contract drafting. The 2001 course, which was supported by the University of Leuven R&D and Leuven Inc., had internationally known speakers and was remarkable for the interest in the course which was much higher than expected. There were requests from 65 would-be participants, but many potential participants had to be disappointed. Therefore, it was decided to compile a professional video of the course. The tapes of the 2001 course have been sold together with the Working Papers of the course to interested LES members all over the world.
In 2005, the author of the present article (under the leadership of Allen Norris, LES Benelux, Past-President) devised and introduced a half-day negotiation case study on the morning of the second day. This popular part of the course involves a three party negotiation of a licensing deal. For this case study each participant is assigned to one of the three parties all of whom have an interest, but a differing interest, in reaching agreement on a licensing deal. Using three parties makes the outcome uncertain as there is always the danger that two of the parties come to an agreement which leaves the third party in a poor position. Thereby, a real-life situation is created in which the participants have an opportunity to exercise their negotiation skills, but also to have first hand experience that an agreement often requires compromise and respecting the comfort zones of others.
After 2005, the course was held every year alternately in Belgium and the Netherlands and is typically restricted to 40 participants. In 2006, the present program was finalised, in which the negotiation case study is in the afternoon of the first day and the drafting license contract workshop on the second day. This latter module has been extended to the whole of the second day and has been created to provide a more detailed basic insight into the construction of a license agreement. It comprises an in-depth workshop exploring the anatomy of a license agreement, section by section, and providing practical advice on how to draft a successful agreement. The participants are split typically into two groups to facilitate interaction. Each group is coached by experienced transactional lawyers. The course during this time was very fortunate to have the professional assistance of Inge Basteleurs and Jürgen Hassa, who created a detailed term sheet for the drafting exercise of the second day based on the scenario of the negotiation study of the first day. Re-using information already explored in detail by the participants during the day before has made the second day much more efficient.
The Present-Day Course
The course in its present form is delivered in the English language and is designed to go from start to finish of an agreement in two days and includes presentations relating to key aspects of Licensing Practice such as IP Basics, Due Diligence, Valuation and Competition Law, as well as participative workshops on negotiation, IP strategy and agreement drafting. Testimonials from those attending the LES Benelux Licensing Course refer to the effort both with the preliminary exercises as well as during the course, but confirm that it is beyond doubt worth it! Not only the knowledge and contributions of the presenters is appreciated, but also the networking generated during the days and evenings with other participants is also much appreciated. Also appreciated is the close link with industry and valuable insights into how to cope with several technicalities on this topic. With reference to the second day, participants appreciated that the course is accompanied by a really good team with profound knowledge and the good introduction and supporting materials around term sheets, as a basic instrument for licence contract negotiation are seen as very helpful.
The Benelux Licensing Course attracts participants not only from Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg but also from many other countries such as Germany, Austria, Scandinavia, Spain, Finland, Switzerland, France and the United Kingdom.
The Course Adapts!
In 2016 it was the first time that an optional add-on (third) topic day on complex clauses was held after the traditional two-day course. The organisation of this day for 2016 was done by Guillemette Vital-Durrand whose boundless enthusiasm is not only infectious, but also persuasive and effective. The course organisers had appreciated that some topics were becoming too complex to be dealt with in a single 45-minute presentation. The Benelux licensing course also has to expect that the participants can and do have a wide variation in knowledge in licensing law and intellectual property rights. For some topics 45 minutes is simply not enough to provide an introductory presentation for those with limited knowledge while dealing in detail with the latest case law for those who are experienced. An example is unfair competition law which has developed into a variety of important and demanding separate topics such as FRAND licensing, the use of block exemptions and abuse of a dominant position. The creation of the third day is also seen now as a way of introducing, in a dynamic way, expert discussions of new developments which are occurring in Europe. Examples of these are the Unified Patent Court, the patent with unitary effect, the Trade Secret Directive, the reorganising of patent, trademark and design right law after BREXIT, and a possible rewrite of the Supplementary Protection Certificate Regulation.
And a Thank You...
There are many persons who over the last two decades have dedicated their time and expertise to design and run the Benelux Licensing Course all of whom are thanked heartily by the LES Benelux Board and the Program Committee. Unfortunately, not all can be named here. We note however, Bruno Vandermeulen, LES Benelux Past-President who has given his constant support to the course and has introduced the course to the participants on the first day for more than 15 years. For the same time period Dirk Groenwegen has shared his knowledge of commercialisation of new technology. Walter Pors and Frank Landolt have made valuable contributions for over a decade. A very great thanks goes out to Saskia van Dijk-Struyk and Monique van Schevicoven who make up the Secretariat of LES Benelux and who deal with all the details of selection of the venue, publications, working papers, correspondence with the participants, and financial matters while providing a help desk on each day of the course.
This year the annual LES Benelux Licensing Course (17th edition) will be held on 13 and 14 November 2017 at the Faculty Club in Leuven, Belgium. After the course the advanced Licensing Course Topic Day on complex licensing clauses will be held on 15 November at the same location. This topic day can be selected as a stand-alone event or as an add-on to the two-day licensing course.