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20th Nov 2019

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British MPs demand London court to counter EU patent costs

  • Rules for a single EU patent system are still being held up by member states. (Photo: European Commission)

MPs on the UK's House of Commons European Scrutiny committee have demanded that the new EU patent court be based in London in order to mitigate against what it described as "the most damaging effects of a unitary EU-wide patent".

In a comprehensive report published on Thursday (3 May) looking at the effects of the new rules, the committee concluded that it would "hinder, rather than help, the enforcement of patents in the European Union."

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Negotiation on a single set of EU patent rules first started in 1975, but successive attempts to legislate have been blocked by government ministers.

An agreement on an EU patent system was finally reached by governments in June 2011, although Italy and Spain opted out following a decision stipulating the use English, French and German as the official languages for patent applications.

As a result, the new rules are set to be adopted under the "enhanced co-operation" provisions in the EU treaties which allow a group of EU member states to adopt legislation that does not apply across all EU countries. In January they were endorsed by the European Parliament's Legal Affairs committee.

Welcoming the deal, which has been championed by Prime Minister David Cameron, UK Intellectual Property minister Baroness Wilcox argued that "a unitary patent and court system will save businesses time and money whether they are patent holders or those seeking to challenge patents."

Supporters of the EU single patent say that it will reduce legal confusion and reduce patenting costs by up to 80 percent, helping EU-based companies to improve their competitiveness against rivals in the US and Asia where patents are cheaper.

Figures provided by the European Patent Office (EPO) estimate that inventors currently pay €35,000 to protect their work.

However, the new system cannot come into force until member states agree on the location of the patent court.

While Britain and France have demanded, respectively, that the patent court should be in London or Paris, the German government, whose companies account for 14 percent of all patent applications to the EPO, is insisting on the court being based in Munich.

Danish Presidency officials continue to urge ministers to break the log-jam and agree on the court location but little progress has been made since the start of 2012.

The EU scrutiny committee cited evidence that few businesses actually require patent protection across the EU and concluded that the UK government should engage in a "damage limitation exercise" by insisting on a London seat for the new court.

Bill Cash, a conservative eurosceptic MP who is also chairman of the European Scrutiny committee, said that the EU patent rules would “increase costs for SMEs and hinder the enforcement of patents”. He also stated that the negotiations had been “rushed through and effectively excluded the views of the European patent profession.”

Angry MEPs postpone patent vote

Just days after being hailed as solved, the EU decades-long quest for a single patent hit an unexpected snag on Monday evening when MEPs postponed a vote on the draft patent claiming member states had "emasculated" the proposal.

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