eBay Addresses EU Policymakers on the Importance of Encouraging Innovation

April 7, 2014

Last week, Hanne Melin from eBay’s Public Policy Lab spoke at an event in Brussels focused on innovation, organized by the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and hosted by Member of the European Parliament Róża Gräfin vonThun und Hohenstein (Poland, European People’s Party).

Innovation in its different shapes and forms is rapidly transforming our society and affecting our everyday lives. Whether it be hailing a cab and negotiating its fare from your smartphone, online marketplaces shifting the power structure within the retail sector, or 3D printing opening up new design and manufacturing opportunities, innovation is all around us. 

However, it is no surprise that legislation and regulation have difficulties keeping pace with these developments. The goal of this event was to highlight the importance of encouraging dynamic innovations and how policymakers can partner with industry in accomplishing this goal. Oliver Prothman, founder of Choice in eCommerce,  illustrated the risks to innovation if it is not matched by an enabling legal and regulatory framework. Choice in eCommerce was created in reaction to the practice by a growing number of brand owners and manufacturers of contractually restricting their authorized distributors from using online marketplaces as a retail channel. Concerned about how this restrictive practice is impacting their businesses, thousands of European small businesses have signed a petition launched by the Choice in eCommerce initiative calling on national and European policy-makers and public authorities to enforce competition rules against practices restricting professional use of innovative retail channels.

The event participants also engaged in a forward-looking discussion on what the technology and Internet industry should ask of policymakers as they develop legal frameworks. eBay Inc. made three suggestions:

  1. It is time to re-imagine outcome-based legislation: The performance- or principle-based regulatory model can best cater to the flexibility that both regulators and companies need to ensure that “timeless policy goals” can be achieved under rapidly changing conditions.
  2. The policymaker is an important “sense-maker”: Policymakers can make sense of change through their actions and language.
  3. The policymaker should embrace a role as “disruptor”

Policymakers can help new ideas emerge, e.g. by surfacing and managing conflict with a view to enable creative and cooperative solutions to arise. The area of counterfeit sales online is an example of where the European Commission took on such a role. The area of restrictive practices in retail is an example of where we have seen longstanding conflict.

Learn more about the power of disruptive innovation and the role policymakers can play in encouraging forward thinking legal frameworks.