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Patent protection

October 29, 2010

European inventors currently spend 10 times as much protecting their ideas as their US counterparts. But now the EU wants to make patent protection easier and less expensive for the bloc's inventors.

A lit light bulb in the center of the stars of the European flag
Protecting your product across the EU is costly and complexImage: picture-alliance / dpa

The economic crisis hasn't put European companies and independent inventors off investing into research and development. Judged by the some 60,000 patents issued so far this year in Germany, the country's is on track to meet 2009's total.

"Companies followed experts' advice and continued investing in new products - even though we were in the middle of a crisis," Bettina Berner of the German Patent and Trade Mark Office (DPMA) said on Thursday at the opening ceremony of the 62nd edition of the inventors' trade fair IENA in Nuremberg.

Hoping for a break through

Inventor Dieter Ortwein presents his unbreakable bicycle tire
Some 800 products, like an unpoppable tire, are on display at the IENA trade fairImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Inventors from 37 countries are currently presenting some 800 new products at the fair, which the organizers said is the largest of its kind in the world.

Rollerblades, the folding bicycle and inflatable water wings are some of products that went on to conquer the world after being presented in Nuremberg. Like their successful predecessors, many inventors at this year's fair are hoping for break-through deals with the industry so their products can be mass-produced.

Shaky hands? No problem!

Inventor Barbara Willomat presents her safety tray which stabilises glasses on trays
The Willomat tray lets the clumsy wait tables - without worrying guestsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Bernhard Haehnsen is one such inventor. The former ship's captain grew tired moping up after glasses spilled their contents as his ship pitched on the high seas. His neighbor Barbara Willomat designed a way to stabilize glasses and cups on trays. Special suction cups which can be fixed on a tray hold retainers in different shapes and sizes.

"When you're carrying beer glasses on a tray across wobbly grass in a beer garden, the glasses break easily if you don't attach them," Haehnsen said, adding that the Willomat tray could also facilitate work in hospitals and help anyone with shaky hands.

Register first, then show it

High school student Johannes v.Moreau with his invention, the Relax suitcase, which has a chair attached to it (Photo: IENA)
Moreau's idea came when he saw a report about delayed flightsImage: IENA

Other products on display at IENA this year include a foldable chair attached to a suitcase, invented by 12-year-old Johannes von Moreau, and a remote control for model sports cars which can be used with one hand rather than two.

The two inventors Kevin Hummel and Nicolas Rathauser have registered their product with the Munich-based German Patent Office (DPMA) already. That's a step experts strongly recommend.

"Many independent inventors don't have their products registered before they present them at a trade fair," said DPMA spokesperson Berner.

Lengthy, costly patent process

But inventors who want to protect their product in more than one European country currently have to undergo a tedious and costly process that begins with registration at the European Patent Office.

The European Patent Office in Munich (Photo: Peter Kneffel/ dpa)
Inventors register their products here: the European Patent Office in MunichImage: picture alliance / dpa

"You have to decide in how many countries you want to have your patent validated," Heinrich Dornbusch, a consultant with German patent marketing agency ProVendis, told Deutsche Welle. "Currently you have to do that separately in every single member state. This means you have to invest a lot of time and money."

The costs for registering a product in 13 of the EU's 27 countries, for instance, can easily amount to more than 20,000 euros ($28,000) - 10 times the cost of a patent in the United States, according to Dornbusch

Three languages sufficient

The laborious validation process needs simplification, said Stefaan de Rynck from the Internal Market and Services division at the European Commission.

"We want to get rid of the procedure where you have to translate a patent into all languages in order for it to be valid," he told Deutsche Welle. "Patents should be valid across the EU if they are in English, French or German."

This would considerably lower registration costs as the largest part currently goes into translating the relevant documents into the individual countries' languages.

Authors: Nina Haase, Brigitta Moll (dpa, ap)

Editor: Sean Sinico