Rhein on Energy and Climate

For the last 40 years Europe has been struggling for a single patent comparable to patents issued by the US Patent Office. The patents granted by the European Patent Office in Munich are only valid in the 37 signatory countries of the 1973 European Patent Convention, after due translation into the respective national languages. This is time-consuming and costly. On average, it costs 13 times more than in the USA to register a patent in all EU member states, due to multiple translations and registering.

The EU also lacks a single court of appeal for disputes not settled at national level.

According to the EU Commission, the EU business community would save € 250-300 million annually through a single European patent.

In order to get there the Commission has undertaken several efforts, the last one in 2000 proposing English, French and German would suffice to register an EU-wide patent and the EU joining the European Patent Convention.

But Spain, Italy and Poland refuse to accept the language compromise; and the “Avocat General” at the European Court Justice does not endorse a European appeal court that would not guarantee the use of all EU official languages and be installed outside the EU legal system.

That is the sad state of play in late 2010. The European patent saga shows Europe getting lost once more in juridical and linguistic details on issues of strategic importance for European global competitiveness.

In order to be at the forefront of technological progress European business needs a speedy and cost-effective patent protection. The patent dispute has lasted far too long. A solution is overdue.

The overwhelming majority of European patents are registered in English, German and French. These three languages should therefore suffice to establish valid patents in all 35 member states of the patent convention.

The same goes for the proceedings at a European Patent Appeal Court. It should be possible for the parties concerned to hire patent lawyers able to plead to in any of these three languages.

If it proves impossible to obtain a consensus, the interested parties should proceed on the basis of enhanced cooperation as stipulated in the Lisbon Treaty. To that end, nine member states must be willing to go ahead. Ireland, UK, Sweden, Netherlands and Slovenia have already declared their willingness to do so. It should be possible to find four more candidates for testing the relevant provisions of the Lisbon Treaty.

Once such a van-guard is established, other member states will follow suit, under pressure from their business who will not appreciate being left out from an important internal development in Europe.

Brussels 15.11.10 Eberhard Rhein

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