Scaled-down EU patent system moves a step closer to approval

12 countries take part in the simplified patent scheme

A committee of the European Parliament has approved plans to create a 12-country patent system in Europe as countries including the UK seek to break a decades-old deadlock on whether patents should be translated, and, if so, how this should be done.

The whole Parliament will vote on the plans next month, after which the proposal must be approved by the Competitiveness Council.

Governments and businesses have long recognised that the patent systems in powerful economies such as the US are much more efficient than those in place in the EU – because they are single systems.

Costs for EU patents covering all of Europe are estimated at 10 times the cost of a patent covering all of the US. The higher costs are because patents must be translated into the language of each country for which protection is sought.

A patent covering even just 13 countries will cost €18,000 – of which €10,000 is the cost of translation – according to a European Commission statement published last December.

The Commission has made several attempts to create a pan-EU patent system, including one last year. When that failed, 12 EU countries – including the UK – proposed a single patent system that would operate between its members.

It is that system which has been given the go-ahead by the European Paliament's Legal Affairs Committee. It approved a report by German MEP Klaus-Heiner Lehne recommending the system.

The plan would allow a patent examined and granted in English, French or German to have effect in any of the 12 countries in the scheme. Other countries can join it at any time. If their own language is not one of those three, the scheme will cover the cost of translation into one of those three languages.

The countries participating in the plan are the UK, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden

The scheme is an "enhanced cooperation mechanism". This is a formal process that allows nine or more countries to use the EU's official channels to co-operate on a matter if attempts to encourage all 27 countries to cooperate have failed.

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