Amidst celebrations of the French space agency’s 60th anniversary, France has become the latest country to sign the Artemis Accords. France joins 19 other countries around the world, including five other European countries (Italy, United Kingdom, Poland, Luxembourg and most recently Romania).
The emerging NewSpace market is characterised in part by a shift away from national space agencies toward private companies, and the number of actors in space has exploded since the days of the cold war and the space race. The Accords set out principles of peaceful space exploration and collaboration for spacefaring entities, and were drafted by NASA and the United States to accompany the on-going Artemis mission to return humans (including the first woman and person of colour) to the Moon.
The increasing interest in the Accords and their principles, and the broadening of participants in outer space, is very welcome for human progress. However, developers of space technology may be understandably concerned about their legal rights across multiple jurisdictions.
Fortunately, space-faring countries are also signatories to intellectual property treaties to assist patent applicants to centralise and streamline obtaining protection for their inventions. The European Patent Convention, in particular, includes among its signatories all of the European members of the Artemis Accords, in addition to other important European countries (e.g. all other members of the European Space Agency). A single patent granted by the European Patent Office can be used to obtain patent rights in any of the participating ESA member states. As more countries participate in human space development, space innovators can be assured that they have the means to obtain wide territorial coverage for their IP.
Another point of interest is that the Accords include a commitment to the existing Registration Convention of Objects Launched into Outer Space (the ‘Registration Convention’) – this is an international treaty setting out spacefaring nations’ obligations to register details regarding any space object that is launched (including launching state and orbital parameters).
This is worth bearing in mind, since where a space object is registered can affect the applicability of intellectual property rights. For example, the United States has written into its patent statute the principle that US patent law can apply to space objects registered in the United States, but normally not to a space object registered in another country. It is not yet confirmed whether the same principle applies to patent law in European member states, but it is worth noting that many European countries are also signatories to the same Outer Space Treaty as the USA that established the framework upon which the USA extended its patent law to its registered space objects.
The European space industry is already the second-largest in the world and is growing bigger as more countries and private companies look toward the skies. Innovators would therefore be wise to consider their IP options - filing European patent applications as part of their wider portfolio would be a sensible strategy for obtaining wider territorial protection in an expanding market.