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March 10, 2011

Efforts to simplify patent procedures across the EU have gone on for more than a decade. A proposal by the European Commission has moved forward with the approval of most member states, but legal barriers still loom.

German patent files on shelves
About a third of European patents come from GermanyImage: picture alliance/dpa

Representatives from 25 European Union member states on Thursday approved plans to create a common patent system, despite a court ruling two days earlier that the plans are not in line with EU law.

The approval by member states gives the European Commission, the bloc's executive branch, permission to draft detailed legislation. The plan would then go to the European Parliament for a vote.

Patents in the bloc must currently be registered in each individual country. The enormous costs that follow - upwards of 20,000 euros ($28,000), mostly for translation - make an EU-wide patent more than 10 times as expensive as in the United States.

Because of the complicated and expensive procedures, inventors often choose to patent their products in limited regions of the EU. Officials hope the simplified system will stimulate innovation.

Germany stands to gain

The new system aims to reduce the costs and streamline the process by allowing patents in English, French and German to be accepted across the bloc, as well as in Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and Iceland.

Germany has much to gain from the new system, having the EU's most commonly-spoken mother tongue as its official language and producing roughly a third of all registered European patents.

All states but Italy and Spain attended Thursday's meeting in Brussels, with the two objecting because the new system would not allow patents to be registered in their native languages.

Court may delay new plan

Despite the broad support for the new patent system across the bloc, a judgment by the European Court of Justice on Tuesday found the proposed system "is not compatible with the provisions of European Union law."

Specifically, the court objected to the creation of a special court outside EU jurisdiction to mediate patent disputes, called the European and Community Patent Court. An extra-EU court would be necessary to include non-member states in the patent scheme.

The legally-binding decision allows the European Commission to go ahead with drafting basic procedures and language protocol, while the plan for litigation procedures must be amended.

Italy and Spain may threaten to veto such amendments to block the patent system from taking effect. Officials from the two countries have already threatened another legal challenge, arguing that forcing Spanish and Italian companies to litigate patents in another language violates their right to defense.

Author: Andrew Bowen (AFP, Reuters, dapd, dpa)
Editor: Rob Turner