European Patents Closer to Becoming a Reality

By Julia at Legal Language
Posted on 12/12/2011
In International Law

The European Union is getting closer to creating a unitary patent protection system. The existing patent system in Europe requires an inventor to file individual country applications in each EU country to obtain patent protection. The proposed unitary patent system would allow companies and individuals to apply for a single patent and receive patent protection across 25 member states.

One Step Closer

The Legal Affairs Committee of the European Union recently approved a mandate to open formal discussions among member states about creating a unitary patent. The legislation will be discussed under a special procedure that allows member states to continue negotiations, even without unanimous consent. Spain and Italy opted out of the discussions earlier due to language issues. But under the negotiation procedure, either country could re-enter the debate at any time. Today 25 of 27 member states have agreed to work toward a unitary patent protection system.

The European Parliament, the body that will facilitate the discussion, offers three proposals on a winner-takes-all basis. The entire committee must approve all three proposals before the system can be implemented.

Reducing Costs and Improving Competitiveness

By creating one patent that will have legal force across the entire European Union, the EU hopes to reduce patenting costs and increase competitiveness of European businesses. The first proposal sets up a unitary patent protection system allowing inventors from other countries to apply for a single EU patent and pay a single fee. The proposal aims to make the European Union more competitive with the US and Japan, where patents are much cheaper.

Patent Language Issues

One of the major issues in implementing a unitary patent system was proposing a system for translating patent applications. Members of the European Union have been discussing the possibility of a unified patent system for more than 10 years but were unable to reach an agreement regarding translation and language issues. Spain and Italy objected to the fact that their languages were not being given the same weight as those of the UK, France, and Germany, and dropped out of discussions.

Under the proposed legislation, individuals could submit a patent application in any EU language, and the resulting patents would be available in German, English and French. For those who do not speak one of the three languages, the EU proposes to compensate for the cost of translation. Another proposal to provide special translation reimbursement for small businesses will be discussed.

A Unified Patent Court

The final proposal aims to reduce the costs and uncertainty of enforcing patents across national borders by creating a unified patent court. The unified court will have exclusive jurisdiction over patents, with the main objectives of reducing costs relating to multiple litigations in several countries and preventing conflicting judgments.  There are still several sticky issues to resolve before member states agree to a unified patent court. For example, member states must agree on the structure of the court, procedural rules and judge selection.

Although formal discussions on a European Union unitary patent have begun, there remain many open issues that will require some time and negotiations to resolve.

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