EUobserver

Europe Edges Closer to Common Patents


The European Union took a big step towards creating a single Europe-wide patent system on Dec. 4, a move that is expected to save businesses many millions in annual costs.

As part of the deal, industry ministers meeting in Brussels reached a political agreement on the setting up of a single EU-patent to replace the multitude of national patents that innovators are currently forced to acquire to protect their products.

The ministers also reached a deal on the establishment of a EU patent court system that would see the setting up of a single European appeals courts for patent infringement disputes.

This would help end the need for companies to take out parallel litigation proceedings in different member states, a costly procedure.

"Today's agreement cannot be overestimated. It comes at a moment when it is most needed," said the EU's industry commissioner, Gunter Verheugen, after the deal was struck.

EU studies predict that companies paying for patents stand to save a combined figure of at least ¬150 million per year through a more efficient and cost effective patent system.

Festivities on hold However, there are still a number of outstanding issues to be resolved before a fully functioning European patent system can be put in place, including the need to bring down European patent translation costs.

"We have won an important battle, but not yet the war," said Arnaldo Abruzzini, secretary general of Eurochambres, an umbrella organisation representing European businesses.

"It is not sustainable that a company cannot protect an invention on the whole EU territory for less than €70,000 while this costs around €20,000 in the US and even less in Japan," he added.

The European Court of Justice is also in the process of determining whether a new European patent court system can be set up, with CEOs likely to wait until this latest political accord is transformed into a detailed agreement before popping the champagne corks.

The commission proposed a regulation on a EU patent as far back as 2000, but the process stalled in 2004 and a final deal was never reached.

Businesses see good patent protection as vital to achieving high levels of innovation, with the EU frequently criticised over its laborious and expensive procedures compared to competing countries.

The bloc is currently in the process of devising a new 10-year economic plan to kick in when the Lisbon Strategy expires at the end of 2010. Innovation, especially in the area of green technology, is expected to feature prominently.

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