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Commission repeats call for single EU patent

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The European Commission has reiterated its demand for the creation of a single European patent. It said the absence of such a protection is hindering the growth of technology companies in the European Union.

The Commission has published a strategy aimed at increasing the benefit to be gained in the EU from technology research and development. It announced an increase in research funding for technology research of over 50 per cent between 2010 and 2013. It will increase spending from €1.1bn to €1.3bn, it said.

The Commission said, though, that increased funding for for research was only part of the its plan to create more economic value from EU research.

"The framework conditions for regulation, standardisation and intellectual property right (IPR) regimes need to be adapted to new realities," said its proposal to the European Parliament and Council. "Standardisation structures and processes must become more agile and reactive, and with a clearer distinction between missions requiring public intervention and those more related to market dynamics."

"The IPR system also needs to be improved by the creation of a Community patent for innovative ICT companies to protect their inventions in the single market," it said.

Patents covering much of Europe do exist, but they are operated by the European Patent Office (EPO), which is not a part of EU government. If the EPO gives a patent application its approval then it is granted only in the countries specified in the patent application, not automatically in all the countries signed up to its governing principles, the European Patent Convention.

The Commission wants to address the fact that the EU lags behind other countries or groups of countries in the earning power of its technology industry.

"Today Europe represents 34% of the global information and communication technologies (ICT) market, and its value is growing by 4% per year. However, the value added produced by the EU's ICT sector amounts to only 23% of the total, because both Europe's market and research efforts are fragmented," said a Commission statement. "As a result, Europe is lagging behind its global competitors in ICT research and in the production of innovative ICT-based products and services."

The Commission has recommended to the Parliament and Council that a single EU patent would help to create more economic value from research.

"The fragmentation of the European market for innovative ICT products and services is one of the main factors behind the low investments and slow development of high-growth SMEs [small and medium sized enterprises]," said its proposal. "Little interlinkage can be seen in the 'knowledge triangle' between innovation, R&D and education policies that are often drawn up in isolation by different ministries or at different levels. The consequences are: duplication of efforts, lack of critical mass, difficulties in addressing common challenges jointly and, in the end, sub-optimal returns on R&D investments."

Internal Markets Commissioner Charlie McCreevy has previously proposed uniting elements of the EPO with its own proposals for cross-border patents to create a new EU-wide patents system, but has faced political opposition over the plans.

The Commission has said that it will increase its spending on technology research by €600,000 over the three years to 2013, and that national governments should increase their spending on research by the same amount. That would more than double the amount spent on technology research in the EU by governments.

"For decades to come, ICT will underpin the competitiveness of our economy, the efficiency of our public services and our quality of life," said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. "Europe represents the largest share of the world's ICT market. Our economic performance and jobs depend on these technologies. Our task is to make sure that Europe is well-equipped to harness the potential of technologies like the internet or mobile phones. This means taking concrete steps to ensure that Europe takes pole position to shape and benefit from ICT developments."

See: The Commission's proposals (12-page/154KB pdf)

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