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After 50 years, Europe gets one patent to rule them all

New European Patent Organisation will apply patents to 25 nations

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Patent trolls have a new bridge to hide under, after the European Union (EU) today announced that it will now offer applicants the chance to win a single patent spanning 25 member nations.

The EU has been haggling over this issue for more than 50 years - a unified patent system was one of the EU's founding aspirations, while a 1973 agreement languished - and is proclaiming the new decision as “good news for EU economy and especially for European small and medium enterprises.”

The reasoning behind that assertion is that explained in the FAQ about the new regime, which states “maintaining a European patent for ten years in only six European countries can be four times more expensive than it would be in the US, Japan and many other advanced economies.” Those high costs come from the fact that would-be registrants need to file for a patent all over Europe, incurring legal and application fees, plus translation costs, in each jurisdiction.

Costs, the EU says, can reach €36,000, of which up to €23,000 can go on translation fees. The new regime will mean patent applications “will cost a minimum of €4,725, when the new rules are fully implemented, up to a maximum of €6,425. The costs for translation will range from €680 to €2,380.”

The lower translation fees will come about because the new regime will allow applications from anywhere inside the EU to go straight to the  European Patent Organisation (EPO), which will accept patent applications in English, German or French. The EPO will assess the application. A new unified patent court will then assess patent disputes.

The EU is keen to point out that the current patent system is a mess, as “To enforce or to revoke today's European Patent may entail multiple legal proceedings in various countries. The decisions of the new patent court, by contrast, will apply in all participating EU member states.”

That new arrangement, it is hoped, will make that a thing of the past.

But the announcement also suggests the new regime will also work rather nicely for patent trolls, as it points out that today “Due to the lack of a unified litigation system, this leads to parallel lawsuits in different countries, sometimes with divergent outcomes. Currently, between 146 and 311 patent infringement cases are being duplicated annually in the EU member states. In 2013, this number is likely to rise to between 202 and 431 duplicated cases.”

But with just one court in which to pursue cases, trolls seem to now have a one-stop shop, and a well-priced one at that, in which to pursue their claims.

The new regime comes into force on 1 January 2014, “ or after thirteen contracting states ratify it, provided that UK, France and Germany are among them.” Spain and Italy aren't playing nicely at this stage, but “could decide to join in at any time.” ®

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