20th Mar 2018

'Historic day' as EU patent deal ends 40-year wait

  • Atomium - Brussels' signature monument to scientific research (Photo: O Palsson)

The 40-year-long quest to create a single European patent ended on Tuesday (11 December) when the European Parliament ratified a deal which will come into force in 2014.

Speaking in the assembly in Strasbourg, EU single market commissioner Michel Barnier said that the achievement marked a "historic day."

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Under the regime, inventors will be able to apply to the European Patent Office for a patent valid in 25 of the bloc's 27 member states.

Spain and Italy will remain outside the scope of the patent regime in protest that patents will only be available in English, French or German-language versions.

The three legislative files on the unitary patent, language regime and unified patent court, were each backed by wide majorities with over 480 MEPs in favour.

Supporters of a unitary patent claim that it will drastically reduce costs for businesses and entrepreneurs. Europe-wide patents currently cost around €35,000 each, according to the European Patent Office (EPO), almost 10 times the cost in the US. The European Commission says that EU patent costs could fall to €4,725.

However, the Green group broke ranks in opposing the deal, describing its validity as "legally uncertain" and criticising the status of the EPO and its European Patent Court, which is to exist outside the EU treaty framework.

Christian Engstrom - the Swedish Pirate party deputy and the group's spokesman on intellectual property rights - said the proposal "hands control over European innovation policy to patent lawyers with vested interests, and not the democratically elected legislators."

MEPs had previously demanded that the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ), which acts as arbiter on the application of EU law, should always be the first port of call for patent disputes, but now the patent court will play that role instead.

They had also criticised moves made in July by ministers to strip Articles 6 to 8 out of the patent law, which covered the right for patent holders to prevent the use of their invention for some applications and to put other limitations on their patents.

Speaking at a press conference after the vote, German centre-left MEP, Bernhard Rapkay, admitted that the deal was "a sub-optimal solution."

He added that MEPs had come under intense pressure from lobbyists to veto the deal in the weeks leading up to the vote.

Meanwhile, parliament legal Affairs committee chair Klaus Hehne Lehne told reporters that the rules would strengthen the EU's hand when negotiating on patent rules with China.

"We have closed an important gap in the single market," added the German centre-right deputy.

For his part, Jonathan Zuck, President of the Association for Competitive Technology, said the new system would "remove a major hurdle to innovation and growth" by protecting small businesses form "fragmented national legislation."

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