13th Nov 2018

Eleven states to move on single EU patent

France, Germany, the UK and eight other countries will go ahead and implement a single EU patent aimed at lowering costs across the bloc to protect inventions, after talks with Italy and Spain over translation rights foundered.

Hailing it as "the cherry on top of the Belgian EU presidency cake," Vincent Van Quickenborne, Belgian acting minister for entrepreneurship and simplification said the move was "an important step for EU integration."

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  • Patents in the EU are overly expensive (Photo: Notat)

Not integrated in the deal, however, are Spain and Italy, who pressed to have their own languages recognised as well, not just English, French and German as the current decision entails.

Mr Van Quickenborne explained that the solution to have the 45-year old idea come into being, after talks with Italy and Spain collapsed, was to use the provision of "enhanced co-operation" allowed under the Lisbon Treaty, meaning that when there is no unanimity, on certain issues a group of minimum eight member states can go ahead and implement a new EU law.

Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Sweden and the UK are part of the deal, while other countries may join at any time.

This group of countries earlier this week sent a letter to the EU commission urging it to consider the enhanced co-operation option as a way out of the deadlock.

"It's the first time that we use enhanced co-operation in a dossier that is the essence of EU – internal market," Mr Van Quickenborne said.

According to internal market commissioner Michel Barnier, who was also part of the drafting team of the current EU treaty, the option of enhanced co-operation was the only way to break the decade-long deadlock.

He said the new regulation on the EU patent may be finalised by the end of 2011 and would cut back at least tenfold the current cost of roughly €80,000 to have a patent recognised in all 27 member states.

With the cost of a patent in the US currently estimated at €1,850, it is no wonder that EU businesses are not competitive, Mr Barnier said. The initial commission proposal was set to cost €4,700, but with the current compromise, which involves free translation for the company in one language of its choice, the cost is estimated at €5,000-6,000.

Pressed by Italian journalists to explain why the negotiations with Rome and Madrid stopped, Mr Barnier blasted: "I don't mean to sound controversial, but Italy was a member of the EU when the three-language system was set up and it did not have any objections back then. What do people want, to drive up costs? To go back 30 years? This is a good agreement for everyone," he asked.

Currently, companies can apply for a patent with the Munich-based European Patent Office, which isn't part of the EU and has 38 member countries. It only issues patents in English, French and German (what Mr Barnier was referring to). The patent then breaks up into a bundle of patents which companies must defend in each individual country.

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