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EU ministers give approval to patent scheme

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A new patent agreement covering 25 of the EU's 27 countries was given the green light by EU member states yesterday. The European Commission will now draw up a specific proposal for the scheme.

EU bodies have tried for many years to create a single patent system for Europe whose costs are lower than at present. The current system can cost 10 times as much as one for the US, according to European Commission figures.

Most of that cost is generated by the need to translate patent documents into the language of any country where protection is sought. A new proposal to reduce translation costs was derailed last summer, and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said this week that a plan for a pan-EU patent court would break EU law.

A group of 12 EU countries proposed last autumn that they create their own system based on patents in English, French and German. The plan is based on an enhanced co-operation mechanism introduced into EU law by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009.

Since autumn, every other EU country has said it will join the scheme except Italy and Spain, according to a statement from the European Council of Ministers.

The plans have already been approved by the Commission and the European Parliament. A spokeswoman for the European Commission said last month that after this week's approval by ministers the Commission would work on a detailed proposal that would need the European Parliament and Ministers' approval later this year.

The proposal would allow a patent examined and granted in English, French or German to have effect in any of the countries in the scheme. If a country's own language is not one of those three the scheme will cover the cost of translation into one of those three languages.

The ECJ this week published an opinion on an older scheme to create a single court system for patents issued by the European Patent Office to EU member countries and other members of its system.

The ECJ said that the proposed system would be incompatible with EU law because it would interpret EU law but operate outside of the EU courts system, leaving citizens without recourse to action through the EU courts.

The Commission said that the ECJ ruling would not affect the new plan for a patent system involving the 25 countries.

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