21st Jun 2021

EU inventors happy to ditch 'wasteful' patent system

  • Dulst has spent €33,000 getting his patent secured in 13 of the EU member states (Photo: Derek Gavey)

For Marc Dulst and scores of other entrepreneurs in the EU, the single European patent will arrive thousands of euros too late.

The Belgian inventor of a gadget that protects wine after the bottle has been opened, Dulst has spent €33,000 getting it patented in 13 of the EU member states. A patent across the remaining 14 would bring the costs to €45,000.

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By contrast, he patented 'Qivino' - which works by maintaining the correct oxygen levels for the wine - for €16,000 in the US.

The European costs are enormous for small companies but the mountain of paperwork is just as frustrating. Dulst said the most irritating aspect of the process is the time wasted registering the patent in each member state and getting the documents translated.

"It is really complicated for small companies. If you are big and you have somebody working on just that, it's ok. But if you are small, it means high costs plus lots of wasted time which could be used for more important things," he told EUobserver.

"Companies that do not have this waste of time can get ahead commercially more quickly."

The patent saga occupies a special place in Brussels policy folklore. It became a running joke that each member state to take over the six-month rotating presidency would, with misplaced optimism, put the 'patent issue' on its half year to-do list.

But the decades-long deadlock - primarily over languages - was finally broken at the end of last year when impatient member states put their foot down. In the meantime the clamouring by European businesses to have simpler and cheaper rules to protect intellectual property had reached a crescendo.

The European Commission followed up last month with proposals on a single European patent. Only Spain and Italy, smarting over the fact that patents will only be translated into English, German and French, are not taking part.

Under the proposed rules - still to be agreed by parliament and member states - an individual or company's invention would be protected by a single patent (except in Spain and Italy), which now no longer needs to be validated in each country.

The translation burdens have been starkly reduced by allowing the inventor to file for a patent in any language, and then make one extra translation if that language is not English, French or German.

With the single patent rules likely to be in place next year, Dulst says the changes cannot come quickly enough.

"I really hope for the future, for European young inventors and people who want to move something in Europe, that they do it really fast because we are losing time and money compared to Asia and the United States."

Meanwhile, EU patents filings have reached record levels, boosted by a huge rise in patent applications from Asia.

The Munich-based European Patent Office (EPO), covering 38 countries, received 235,000 filings in 2010, up 11 percent from 2009, and the highest number ever in the organisation's 34-year history.

The EU accounted for 35 percent of all filings, the highest of any region. The EPO will, under the commission's proposals, be the place where companies can register their patent in 25 EU countries at once.

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