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5th Dec 2021

MEPs demand changes to EU patent plans

MEPs have demanded several changes to a European Commission proposal to sign the bloc up to an agreement on a legal framework for patents in Europe.

The European Parliament on Thursday (12 October) voted by a majority of 494 to 109 to postpone any decision on whether to approve the 25-member union's accession to the European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA), and called for "significant improvements" to the text.

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EU internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy wants the European bloc to become part of EPLA, which is a deal drafted by the European Patent Organization (EPO).

Once ratified, the EPLA would create one single patent court for all 31 countries that are members of the EPO, including the 25 members of the EU.

At the moment, patents are disputed in individual member states under different national laws.

"I believe the time has come to make a concerted push to improve the patent system in Europe," Mr McCreevy said earlier this month.

"I want to involve the community in the EPLA negotiations and bring them to finality."

However, agreement has proved elusive and the debate on how to improve the protection of intellectual property rights in the EU continues.

\"significant improvements\"

Although the majority of the MEPs did not reject the idea of acceding to EPLA, they stressed their reservations over the present form of the draft text and sent the proposal back to the commission for redrafting.

They were particularly concerned about the lack of democratic control over the procedures to grant a patent and want guarantees of democratic control, independence of judges and clarity on the costs of litigation - some of the main issues in the discussion leading up to the vote.

MEPs also asked the parliament's legal service to give its advice on the possible overlap between the EPLA and the 'acquis communautaire' - the 80,000 pages of EU law.

Furthermore, they urged the commission to consider breathing life into the idea of a single European patent system - the Community Patent, which has been deadlocked over member states' lack of agreement on language issues.

The discussion centres on whether the EPLA should work in all member states' languages or in English, German and French or only in English.

The fewer the languages the cheaper the court cases would be but several critics argue that people should be able to go to court in their own language.

Software patent

Supporters of open source and free software believe the EPLA is a disguised way of imposing software patents in Europe, which is currently not recognised as part of patent protection in the bloc.

"The good news is that the [parliament] is the first institution to have raised major objections concerning the draft EPLA in its present form," said long-time anti-software patent campaigner Florian Mueller.

He is founder of the NoSoftwarePatents campaign that last year helped to block the passing of a union-wide law on the software patent directive.

"The bad news is that the [parliament] stopped short of throwing a spanner in the EPLA works, and we have yet to find the first political body to oppose the EPLA in stronger terms," he said on his web blog.

However, a German-based lobbying group against software patents - the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure - says it welcomes the overall result, describing it as a far cry from the original draft, which "almost unequivocally" supported the EPLA.

It says it is not happy that the amended compromise still cedes so much power to Europe's bureaucracy, but " we're 80 percent happy with the result," said Jonas Maebe from the group.

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