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28th May 2022

EU insists court decision won't delay European patent

The European Commission and Hungarian EU presidency remained brave-faced on Tuesday (8 March), after the European Court of Justice dealt a blow to region's hopes of quickly establishing a single European patent system.

The bloc has adopted a two-pronged approach so far: aiming firstly to replace a costly system of multiple national patents by a single European patent; coupled with a new European patent court to resolve related legal challenges.

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  • Judges opposed current plans for a European patent court (Photo: TPCOM)

But the patent court hit a stumbling block on Tuesday after the ECJ said it would result in a significant transfer of power from member states to a new institution outside the EU system.

"The agreement would alter the essential character of the powers conferred on the institutions of the European Union and on the member states," ruled the ECJ judges.

With EU ministers meeting in Brussels this Thursday expected to give the go-ahead for the creation of a European patent, the commission was quick to stress that progress on this track would still continue as anticipated.

"Now that the opinion is available, the commission will analyse it very carefully with a view to identifying appropriate solutions," it said in a statement.

Italy and Spain oppose the EU patent idea, fearing its English, French or German language requirement could disadvantage their national businesses. Keen to press ahead however, the remaining 25 member states are expected to authorise a process of 'enhanced co-operation' later this week.

"The enhanced cooperation to be launched on Thursday's competitiveness council remains unaffected. Work will continue ... to finally establish the long awaited legally secure and cost efficient patent system," said Hungarian minister of state Zoltán Cséfalvay after the court's decision.

Debate over the establishment of a single European patent has run on for decades, frustrating businesses who currently have to protect their intellectual property in each individual member state at considerable expense.

Lawsuits over copyright infringement are also fought in separate member states, adding further to costs, with national courts frequently coming to different conclusions.

The European patent court was supposed to end all of this by covering 38 different states, including the EU 27 but also others such as Switzerland and Turkey.

The inclusion of non-EU states was a key reason behind the patent court's proposed establishment outside the EU system.

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