The 2013/01/07 at 08:33
Marie Luginsland, in Germany
The European Parliament recently lifted a key obstacle in the protection of innovations in Europe. From 2014 onwards, a single application will suffice for Europeans to protect their inventions on the European Union scale. This decision meets a demand for simplification of the patent-filing procedure. “We have been waiting for the completion of this European patent system for forty years,” declares Benoît Battistelli, President of the EPO (European Patent Office). He also specifies that “cutting the costs of patenting inventions in Europe will strongly benefit European enterprises, especially research centres and SMEs. The vision of the founding fathers of the EPO to equip the European economy with a truly supranational patent system can now become a reality, strengthening Europe’s competitiveness.”
Indeed, until now, documents needed to be translated into the language of each of the countries where the patent would apply. So it was not rare for a patent covering the major European countries to notch up costs of 36,000 euros, with 23,000 euros alone for translations! From now on, patents can be filed in any of the languages of the member countries of the European Union. Applications will then be processed in French, English or German, languages spoken by a majority of Europeans but also a majority of inventors! On top of cost cutting – businesses estimate that they will be able to save 15 % to 75 % –, this new measure promises to speed up procedures which could sometimes last up to twelve years. “The unitary patent will provide legal protection for inventors in 25 EU member states through one single administrative step,” explains Oswald Schröder, Spokesman for the EPO whose head office is in Munich. Schröder goes on to say that the development “should make Europe more attractive for innovation and investors and bring it on a par with its competitors in Asia and the US.”
The European Parliament’s decision heralds the finalisation of two directives, one to create the instrument and the other to define the language regime. Finally, it supposes the creation of a specialised court, the UPC (Unified Patent Court), with a court of first instance and an appeal court, holding a specific single-patent jurisdiction. The court will be in Paris, with two regional centres in Germany and Great Britain. The agreement establishing the UPC is to be signed on 18 February 2013, states the EPO that expects to validate the first European patents in 2014.
A nudge for SMEs
Pending further developments, the European patent will apply in 25 out of the 27 member countries of the European Union. For Spain and Italy, considering themselves to be discriminated against in the language issue, are refusing to take part in the procedure. These two countries, respectively representing 2,465 and 4,951 patents in 2010 on the European level, have lodged complaints at the Court of Justice of the European Union. Yet their request is unlikely to be successful according to observers, given how determined Europe is to cooperate in protecting intellectual property. There’s no denying that the economic stakes are high. Businesses will be the first to benefit from this new measure. According to the European Commission, the costs entailed by a European patent will be brought down to 5,000 euros – a significant reduction at a time when filing a patent costs under 2,000 euros in the United States and 600 euros in China.
University research centres and SMEs often lacking an appropriate legal department stand to gain from the creation of a European patent. Germany, which already holds the European patent record with 33,000 applications per year (in other words 13 % of the 343,254 patent applications in Europe in 2010, expects considerable growth in innovation from small and medium-sized enterprises. France also has reason to be happy. It holds second place in Europe for patents, with a volume of 12,000 per year, in other words double the figures respectively in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands.