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EU Lawmakers Back Plans to Establish Patent System

European Union lawmakers approved plans to create the first region-wide patent system that leaves the door open for opponents Italy and Spain to join at a later stage.

The European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg, France, today adopted the proposal, allowing supporters of the plan to press ahead without the full support of all the EU’s 27 nations.

“For far too long EU inventors and innovative companies have faced a significant competitive disadvantage compared to their global rivals,” Malcolm Harbour, a U.K. Conservative lawmaker who chairs the assembly’s internal market committee, said in an e-mailed statement. “As China is now a major patenting power, it’s time we took action.”

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, proposed the compromise deal after governments failed to break a deadlock on what languages should be legally binding. Under the current system, companies can end up paying 18,000 euros ($24,300), including 10,000 euros for translating a patent valid in only 13 countries, the Brussels-based commission has said.

“This is a proposal that is politically acceptable and economically necessary,” Michel Barnier, the EU’s internal-market commissioner, said in an e-mailed statement after today’s vote. “This will mean that a single patent protection will be available to all companies in the EU, whatever member nation they’re based in.”

Barnier, who called Europe’s existing patent system an “unacceptable reality,” said he’s hopeful all countries will eventually join the patent system.

Bundle of Patents

The closest thing to an EU-wide patent is for companies to file an application with the European Patent Office, which isn’t part of the EU and has 38 member countries. The patent then breaks up into a bundle of patents which companies must defend in each individual country.

Attempts to reach an agreement on a region-wide EU patent since 2000 have faltered over the language issues. The EU has 23 official languages and numerous compromise proposals have failed to satisfy political demands or risked increasing translation costs for companies.

The plans approved by lawmakers today need the approval of EU ministers at a forthcoming meeting. The commission can then draft laws setting up the new system.

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