EU finally agrees on joint patent system

  • 2003-03-06

EU ministers agreed March 3 to introduce an EU-wide patent system, finally ending years of wrangling over the cost-saving issue.

A community-wide patent aimed at harmonizing and cutting the cost of patents for companies in the European Union would replace the current system, where a product must be patented separately in every country where protection is sought.

"The owner of this patent will no longer have to launch legal proceedings in each country to assert rights, with the delay, costs and risks of contradictory rulings which that implies," said French Industry Minister Nicole Fontaine.

The EU-wide patent, which has been discussed for 30 years, aims to encourage innovation by cutting the cost of registering new inventions, which is currently three to five times as much as in the United States or Japan.

The agreement will also set up, after a transition period, a specialized tribunal in Luxembourg to oversee the judicial security of the new patent.

The proposal had long been bogged down by differences between EU governments, notably over the question of language.

The compromise accord is expected to be approved at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels scheduled for March 20 - 21.

EU internal market ministers have been divided over which languages the common patent should be published in. Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy rejected a commission proposal that EU patents be drawn up in English, French and German.

The southern countries demanded either the use of English only - rejected by France and Germany - or the use of all 11 EU languages, which would explode costs and cancel out any economic advantage of an EU patent.

With the enlargement of the EU to as many as 28 countries over the next decade - including 10 new members next year alone - the latter option would mean translating patents into 19 languages.

EU patents would be issued by the Munich-based European Patent Office and be viable throughout the union.