Single European patent plan gets second wind

The cherished but elusive scheme for a single EU-wide patent gets underway again after the countries holding it up — Spain and Italy — are left out of the equation
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The plan for a Europe-wide patent scheme has been revived, albeit without the involvement of Spain and Italy.

EU flags

The plan for a Europe-wide patent scheme has been revived, albeit without the involvement of Spain and Italy.

On Monday, with days to go before Poland takes over, the Hungarian presidency of the EU said it had won the approval of the Council of the European Union on a proposal for a unitary patent scheme. The move means the legislative process for creating such a system is once again underway.

"The creation of a single European patent and patent court is crucial for UK industry," UK intellectual property minister Baroness Wilcox said in a statement on Monday. "We support a European patent system which gives real benefits for business, consumers and the economy. It is vital to offer businesses the same access to patent protection in their home market of Europe as competitors in the US, China and Japan enjoy in theirs."

Wilcox said the savings to UK businesses are likely to be around £20m per year in translation costs alone.

The Hungarian proposal is very similar to that made by the European Commission a year ago. However, objections from Spain and Italy caused a logjam for the Commission's plan. As those countries are now out of the picture, the Hungarian scheme has a better chance of going through.

The creation of a single European patent and patent court is crucial for UK industry.
– Baroness Wilcox

The agreement announced this week covers the remaining 25 nations in the EU. Under the proposal, European Patents can be submitted initially in English, French or German. All those in English have to be translated into either French or German, while those in French or German must also be rendered in English.

The idea is to remove the cost and bother associated with translating patents into all the many languages of the European Union. At the moment, businesses have to do this if they want a patent to be enforced across the union.

When the Commission's single patent proposal was raised in July 2010, Spain and Italy objected to the fact that their languages were not being given the same weight as those of the UK, France and Germany.

Now the 'EU patent' has become the 'unitary patent', and every EU country bar Spain and Italy has agreed to participate in the scheme.

Hungarian economic minister Zoltán Cséfalvay said in a presidency statement that he would have been more satisfied to see all 27 member states take part, but he was glad Spain and Italy could still join the scheme in the future, if they so desire.

Languages aside, the Council and Presidency agreed on the technical details of the unitary patent. However, the issue of which court will enforce the unitary patents remains unresolved — the Hungarian presidency said only that "negotiations will be resumed". In March, the European Court of Justice said it thought an EU patent court would be illegal.

Competition commissioner Michel Barnier said a unitary patent protection scheme is now within reach. "If we maintain our present momentum and co-operative spirit, a unitary patent in Europe could be a reality within the next two years," he said in a separate statement.

The Association for Competitive Technology (ACT), a trade association for small technology businesses, said on Monday that Spain and Italy should get over their national pride and make the scheme EU-wide again.

"Soon, Europe's entrepreneurs will benefit from a truly single EU patent," ACT president Jonathan Zuck said in a statement. "Strong intellectual property protection is essential if the European Union wants to remain competitive and achieve even greater innovation. A fragmented and over-complicated patent system does not have a place in today's market — Spain and Italy should be pragmatic."

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