EU-Wide Patent ‘Now or Never’ as Nations Clash on Court Process

The European Union’s first region-wide patent system may “never” happen unless governments bury their differences this month on a court process to handle disputes, an EU official said.

While governments from 25 of the 27 EU nations already agreed on the basic structure of the patent system, discord remains “on all points” concerning the creation of a court, said Pierre Delsaux, deputy director general in EU Internal Markets Commissioner Michel Barnier’s department.

“It’s difficult to get a compromise if EU member states are fighting for all their concerns,” Delsaux told a conference in Brussels today. “If we don’t get an agreement by Dec. 22, I don’t believe there’ll be a unitary patent in a very long time. It’s now or never.”

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, proposed a compromise deal after governments last year failed to break a deadlock on which languages should be legally binding. Attempts to reach an agreement on an EU patent since 2000 have faltered over 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.

In March, 25 EU nations agreed to move forward with a common patent system. Italy and Spain opted out of the plans because they objected to the language system proposals. Italy, which now has a new government led by Prime Minister Mario Monti, is considering joining the system, said Delsaux.

The main sticking points include the seat of the main patent court, how the court system should be financed and the language system.

Financial Crisis

“It would be a pity if after more than 40 years of negotiations, the new system would not be used,” Juergen Koch, head of corporate intellectual property at Robert Bosch GmbH, the world’s largest automotive supplier, said at the event. If EU nations now “lose their energy and speed, which in my view will be absorbed by the financial crisis, it may take even longer.”

Companies can end up paying 18,000 euros ($24,100) for a patent valid in only 13 countries, including 10,000 euros for translation, according to the commission.

“We’re in the final furlongs” toward a final accord on the patent, Barnier told journalists in Brussels today. Europe “could compete with the level of protection that industrial inventions get in the U.S. without it costing 10 times as much as it does at the moment.”

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