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European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy has warned that efforts to establish the pan-European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA) are in danger of coming to naught, after the agreement failed to secure the support of national governments on Monday.

A meeting of the national ministers for industry revealed serious concerns about the form of the proposed EPLA. France, for example, wants patent litigation to be handled by Europe's highest court, alongside national courts, rather than putting the European Patent Office in charge.

Belgium, meanwhile, would like to see countries sign up to the EPLA as and when they feel they agree with it, rather than it being imposed as a blanket reform. Although this stance perhaps misses the point of the whole arguement - that being to harmonise patenting across Europe's member states.

McCreevy, the EU's internal market commissioner, told the Financial Times that "anything remotely concerning this patent area is fraught with minefields at every turn of the road". He said the failure to secure backing from national governments made him "pessimistic" about the prospect of making progress on the issue.

He now argues that the EPLA would reduce the costs of litigation, despite having acknowledged in September that concerns that the EPLA would actually raise costs were "legitimate".

He also suggests that consensus over the EPLA could have paved the way for a community patent, something he has been arguing for for a while. He now sees that as unlikely, telling the FT: "I thought what we were proposing here would not be that difficult for member states to accept. [But] anything of significance is becoming increasingly difficult to to make progress on." ®

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