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27th May 2017

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Italy and Spain sue EU over patent language

Italy and Spain have lodged a complaint with the European Court of Justice over the discrimination of their national languages in an EU patent scheme endorsed by the other 25 member states.

"We hope that the Court can annul this decision, which has been one of the most divisive ones in the history of European integration," Vincenzo Grassi from the Italian foreign ministry said on Tuesday (31 March) in Brussels while attending a meeting of EU competitiveness ministers.

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Both Rome and Madrid are fighting to have the EU patent automatically translated into Italian and Spanish as well, not only the current three working languages provided for by the European Patent Office: English, French and German.

But including two more languages would drive up the costs of an already pricier patent scheme than what can be obtained in the US, for instance, making it more cumbersome for smaller enterprises or individuals to apply.

The establishment of a single EU patent scheme to replace the patchwork of national rules and systems is estimated to save European businesses red tape costs of up to €750 million a year.

"I am confident that the enhanced co-operation procedure presented by the Commission is not discriminatory. We are assured that Italian and Spanish business will suffer no discrimination," internal market commissioner Michel Barnier said in a statement. He added that he hoped both Italy and Spain would soon join the rest of EU member states in endorsing a single patent scheme.

Apart from the language issue, the EU patent is meanwhile running into another legal hurdle after the ECJ ruled in March that the creation of a litigation court would not be compatible with EU law.

Competitiveness ministers are to hold special talks on the patent issue on 27 June in Luxembourg.

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EU ministers have failed to agree on the seat and the funding of a unified patent court, with Paris, London and Munich fighting for the headquarters. Italy, meanwhile, has indicated it may join the 25-strong scheme, leaving only Spain out.

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