19th Feb 2020


EU locked in 'deja vu' patent reform problems

A twenty-year long deadlock on how to set up a European patent system, aimed at boosting the EU's economy, is still in place after a fresh failure of talks over the issue on Monday (4 December).

"It is a reality that in the EU we all have the same opinion. We have to renew our patent system – our litigation systems," said the Finnish trade and industry minister Mauri Pekkarinen, who led the Brussels meeting.

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  • Mr McCreevy told EU industry ministers that he had a sense of "deja vu" over the patent problem (Photo: Council)

"But then when we start to discuss which kind of ways we need to…go forward, then it's much more difficult," he said.

EU industry ministers instead concluded that they "will respond to the [European] Commission's initiatives in due course."

The commission is at the moment preparing a proposal on an EU patent system based on ongoing public consultations, which is set to come out in early 2007.

But the union's 25 member states are being accused of being the main reason for the 20 years of community patent deadlock.

"Member states have to take responsibility here too," an EU official told EUobserver.

"The whole source of the blockade is in the council [member states' decision-making body]" the official said, adding that industry and the commission have agreed on how to move forward.

Brussels is seeking a common EU patent law under which a patent filed in one member state would be valid all across the bloc, instead of the current and costly system where persons or companies seeking a patent in the entire union have to translate patents into several languages and fight infringements in each member state's courts.

EU internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy, who is responsible for the upcoming proposal, told ministers on Monday that "it's clear that more time is needed to look at all options".

But he added that there was nothing new coming from the ministers saying that he had "a feeling we have been down this road before and [I] have a great sense of deja vu."

Giving up national powers

"Some member states have a problem giving up their jurisdiction and also languages is a problem," said Wim van der Eijk from the European Patent Office (EPO) when speaking about the European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA) recently.

"It is a very central point of the state," he said, explaining that especially some member states have a difficulty to transfer that control over to an international body.

The office has since 1977 granted European patents, which are bundled with national patents subject to national grant procedures.

The EU is not part of the EPO although all EU member states - except for Malta - are members of the organisation. Bulgaria, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Romania, Switzerland and Turkey are also members.

Since the 1970s, there have been parallel discussions towards the creation of an EU community patent. It came to a complete standstill in 2004 after EU ministers failed to agree on various issues, and mainly on the question of time delays for translations claims.

Mr McCreevy wants the European bloc to become part of EPLA, which is a deal drafted by the EPO.

Once ratified, the EPLA would create one single patent court for all 31 countries that are members of the EPO, including the 24 members of the EU in the ELO and Malta.

But France want the Europe's highest court – the European Court of Justice – alongside national courts to take care of EU patent litigation.

Belgium on the other hand wants EU members who support the EPLA to go ahead while other member states can join in at a later stage.

Austria, the Netherlands and the UK said they backed EPLA as it would mean quick and cheap benefits for companies seeking to protect their innovations.

"For the moment I think the discussion is coming to a difficult stage, but in the long run it only makes sense," Mr Van der Eijk said.

McCreevy beats head on wall over patents

EU internal market commissioner Charlie McCreevy has expressed his frustration over member states' inability to agree on a common European patent and is calling for EU companies to put pressure on their home governments.

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