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Some Countries Propose To 'Cooperate' On EU Patent

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

30 November 2010

Following the inability to agree on a proposal for pan-European patent legislation between European Union (EU) member states, the Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, Michel Barnier, has indicated the willingness of the European Commission (EC) to proceed with some countries on the basis of 'enhanced cooperation'.

Comprehensive EU patent legislation would allow innovators to apply for a single patent covering the entire EU territory. In December 2009, member states unanimously adopted conclusions and agreed the key elements to bring about a single EU patent.

Earlier this year, the EC disclosed new proposals seeking to build on the three language system at the European Patent Office (EPO) and which, if adopted, would drastically reduce existing translation costs. The EC proposed that EU patents would be examined and granted in one of the official languages of the EPO: English, French or German.

The granted patent would be published in this language which would be the legally binding text. The publication would include translations of the claims, the section of the patent defining the scope of protection of the invention, into the other two EPO official languages.

However, not all EU member states felt able to proceed on that basis and, earlier this month, attempts to obtain unanimity in the Competitiveness Council were abandoned. In particular, Italy, Spain and Poland are reported to have said that such a system might favour French and German businesses, and to have suggested that English, as the major business language, should be the only language used.

As unanimity cannot be assured, several member states, reported to include the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, Slovenia, Estonia and Ireland, have indicated their willingness to proceed using the possibility under EU rules for 'enhanced cooperation', while other countries, such as France, the Czech Republic and Malta, are said to be prepared to explore the plan.

'Enhanced cooperation' allows those countries of the EU that “wish to continue to work more closely together” to move forward “at different speeds and/or towards different goals.” It may be undertaken only as a last resort, such as with regard to the EU patent, “when it has been established within the European Council that the objectives of such cooperation cannot be attained within a reasonable period.” Enhanced cooperation would require the approval of at least eight member states.

Barnier, himself, has now indicated the support of the EC to the move towards the EU patent by means of enhanced cooperation. “As soon as the EC receives a formal request,” he said, “we will be ready to take action quickly and seriously.”

“We need a European patent,” he added. “The current system for the patent is too expensive. It impedes growth. And it is small and medium sized businesses - genuine sources of dynamism for the future - which are suffering most from it. We thus need to move forward quickly on this issue. The December Competitiveness Council will be the opportunity for this.”

TAGS: business | patents | European Commission | law | intellectual property | legislation | European Union (EU) | Europe

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