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Plan for European patent court may fail, says EU Commissioner

Bickering over details to blame

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The EU Internal Markets Commissioner has warned that Europe is about to miss out on a chance to forge a pan-European patent disputes forum because of long-standing international bickering on what a system might look like.

Following further fruitless discussions between European countries this week, Charlie McCreevy has warned that the entire plan could stall. “Anything remotely concerning this patent area is fraught with minefields at every turn of the road,” McCreevy told the Financial Times.

Europe's industry ministers met on Monday to discuss how to establish the long-planned European Patent Litigation Agreement which would commit its signatory states to an integrated judicial system for patent disputes, including uniform rules of procedure and a common appeal court. They discussed long-standing problems with the proposal and failed to come to any agreement.

France said it wanted any EPLA to be taken out of the hands of the European Patent Office (EPO) and put into the control of Europe's existing courts system. Others, too, have questioned the accountability of an EPLA tied to the EPO and not to the EU itself.

Belgium reportedly argued that entry into an EPLA agreement should be voluntary, and that countries should not be forced into the scheme by European decree.

McCreevy sought permission from the national ministers to negotiate on all of the EU's behalf for entry into the EPLA scheme. That was not given.

McCreevy has already amended his EPLA plans this year. The European Parliament objected to a motion on joining the EPLA on grounds of accountability, cost and the prospect that it would make software patents more likely.

Members of the Parliament proposed their own, softened, version of McCreevy's motion, which they passed in October this year. That motion said that the Parliament "considers that the proposed [EPLA] text needs significant improvements, which address concerns about democratic control, judicial independence and litigation costs, and a satisfactory proposal for the Rules of Procedure of the EPLA Court."

After this latest setback McCreevy told the Financial Times that he was "pessimistic" that any progress would ever be made.

“I thought what we were proposing here would not be that difficult for member states to accept," he said. "But anything of significance is becoming increasingly difficult to to make progress on.”

A separate plan for a Community Patent has also failed to make significant progress since being proposed by the European Commission in 2000. It would give inventors the option of obtaining a single patent that would be legally valid throughout the European Union, saving significant costs in the protection of an invention. But a failure to agree on the requirements for the translation of patents and on how infringements of patents which might arise as a result of mistranslations should be treated has stalled progress.

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