Europe agrees structure for single patent system

Posted on 2 Jul 2012 by Tim Brown

EU leaders agreed on Friday to introduce a single European patent, ending decades of dispute with a deal that will cut costs for inventors and industry.

The new scheme will bring to an end the disjointed and expensive current system where it typically costs an inventor up to 35,000 euros to protect an idea throughout the European Union.

Signalled as an important initiative to help stimulate Europe’s faltering economy, The European Patent Office (EPO) estimates that a single patent, which may now come in 2014, could cut the registration costs by more than two-thirds.

“After 30 years of discussion on the European patent, we have reached an agreement on the last outstanding issue – the seat of the unified patent court,” Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, said after an EU leaders’ summit.

A streamlined patent scheme had been held up by disagreement between Germany, France and Britain over who should host the court that will adjudicate in patent disputes.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed on Friday to split the court between three centres – Munich, Paris and London, depending the type of patent.

Under the compromise, the court’s headquarters will be in Paris, with some functions in London and Munich. Anyone seeking to challenge an infringement of their patent in life sciences, for example, will do so in London. Cases concerning engineering and physics, on the other hand, will be dealt with in Munich.

“Securing a high quality patent system was always the main priority for businesses, rather than squabbling over the location of the patent court,” said Matthew Fell, CBI Director for Competitive Markets. “The move to split the European patent court between Paris, London and Munich seems a sensible compromise, and will draw on the UK’s expertise in life sciences.”

Registering a patent in the European Union is currently far more expensive than in the United States, because a patent must be taken out in many countries rather than with one EU agency. Once in place, the single patent system will avoid the need for inventors to register and defend their ideas in many countries and languages.

“Instead of applying for a patent in 27 member states (European businesses now) can apply in only one place,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who as prime minister of Denmark, the current holder of the EU presidency, helped to broker a deal.

Angela Merkel, German Chancellor

According to Reuters, German Chancellor Angela Merkel “had originally wanted the court to be in Munich. Germany accounted for roughly 14% of all applications to the European Patent Office in 2011, almost three times as many as France and far ahead of Britain’s 3 percent.”

Italy and Spain, however, have so far refused to back a deal because the new regime stipulates the official languages for patents as English, French and German. Italy may join later but it is not clear if Spain will. They had wanted Italian and Spanish included too.