Europe agrees single patent system

EU leaders agreed on Friday to introduce a single European patent, ending decades of dispute with a deal that will cut costs for inventors and industry.

By John O’donnell And Ethan Bilby (Reuters)

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Published: Fri 29 Jun 2012, 9:28 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 11:46 AM

The scheme will end the fragmented system where it typically costs an inventor up to 35,000 euros ($43,500) to protect an idea throughout the European Union, and is an important part of a growth drive for Europe’s stagnating economy.

“After 30 years of discussion on the European patent, we have reached an agreement on the last outstanding issue - the seat of the unified patent court,” Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, said after an EU leaders’ summit.

A streamlined patent scheme had been held up by disagreement between Germany, France and Britain over who should host the court that will adjudicate in patent disputes.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed on Friday to split the court between three centres - Munich, Paris and London, depending the type of patent.

“...the crisis finally made them realise it’s a bit petty to argue about languages and seats,” said one EU official.

Registering a patent in the European Union is currently far more expensive than in the United States, because a patent must be taken out in many countries rather than with one EU agency.

“Instead of applying for a patent in 27 member states (European businesses now) can apply in only one place,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who as prime minister of Denmark, the current holder of the EU presidency, helped to broker a deal.

The European Patent Office (EPO) estimates that a single patent, which may now come in 2014, could cut the registration costs by more than two-thirds.

As with many other policy issues in Europe, national pride had hindered agreement.

Merkel had originally wanted the court to be in Munich. Germany accounted for roughly 14 percent of all applications to the European Patent Office in 2011, almost three times as many as France and far ahead of Britain’s 3 percent.

Under the compromise, the court’s headquarters will be in Paris, with some functions in London and Munich.

Anyone seeking to challenge an infringement of their patent in life sciences, for example, will do so in London. Cases concerning engineering and physics, on the other hand, will be dealt with in Munich.

German inventors and industry, led by engineering giants such as Siemens and Robert Bosch, applied to register more than 33,000 patents in 2010, compared to roughly 80 in Greece and similar number in Portugal, according to the EPO.

Once in place, the single patent system will avoid the need for inventors to register and defend their ideas in many countries and languages.

Italy and Spain, however, have so far refused to back a deal because the new regime stipulates the official languages for patents as English, French and German. Italy may join later but it is not clear if Spain will. They had wanted Italian and Spanish included too.

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