EU Patent System Gets Green Light, May Make First Award in 2014

The European Union’s first region-wide patent system could be in place by early 2014 after EU lawmakers broke a decades-long deadlock on plans to make the protection of inventions in Europe cheaper and easier.

The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, today voted in favor of three proposals that will create a patent valid across 25 of the EU’s 27 nations, the language system to go with it and a specialized patent court system.

Costs for getting the protection could be cut by more than 30,000 euros ($39,000) under the new system, the European Commission, the EU’s executive agency said. While a European patent valid across the EU’s 27 nations costs about 36,000 euros, this could be cut to about 5,000 euros under the so-called unitary patent. A unified patent court with specialized judges would also be established under the plans.

“Today’s vote is good news” for the “EU economy and especially for European small and medium enterprises,” said Bernhard Rapkay, one of the EU lawmakers sponsoring the legislation.

Attempts to reach an agreement on an EU patent in the past have faltered over the language regime to be used. The EU has 23 official languages and numerous compromise proposals in the past have failed to satisfy political demands or risked increasing translation costs for companies. The commission proposed a compromise deal after governments failed to reach consensus on which languages should be legally binding. EU leaders in June agreed on the seat of the new patent court, clearing the last hurdle to an agreement.

Unitary Patent

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

Applications for the unitary patent would still be made through the EPO and once granted would be valid across the 25 EU participating nations.

Spain and Italy challenged the EU’s decision in March 2011 to move forward with a common patent system under a mechanism called enhanced cooperation whereby member states can work together as long as at least nine agree. The two countries had objected to the plan largely over language concerns.

An advocate general at the EU Court of Justice, the bloc’s highest court, said in a non-binding opinion today that the court should reject Spain’s and Italy’s challenges.

The commission said the first unitary patent could be granted as soon as April 2014, if at least 13 EU nations have ratified the draft agreement on the new Unified Patent Court by November 2013.

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