Breton renews calls for a single European patent system

European Commissioner-designate in charge of internal market, Thierry Breton [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

The EU should speed up plans to create a single European patents system because the current setup is “too expensive and fragmented,” Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton has said.

Speaking to lawmakers in the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs committee on Monday (25 May), Breton drew attention to the EU’s previous attempts to establish a single European patent system, as a means to foster technological innovation.

“The EU has a solid framework for intellectual property, but the current system has to become much more effective. It’s too fragmented and too expensive. And it has to be adapted to the challenges of the digital age and the environment,” Breton said.

Creating a “single European patent system” is one of his top priorities as part of a series of policy priorities post-coronavirus, he said.

“It’s a question of developing solutions that allow technologies to be shared. It’s a question of competitiveness,” he added.

EU member states and the European Parliament agreed on a patents package nearly a decade ago, in 2012. The measures included the creation of a European unitary patent, and the establishment of a Unified Patent Court (UPC).

A Unified Patent Court would allow for a fully harmonised European patents to be issued with unitary effects across the bloc, abolishing the current system of national patent rights.

However, in March this year, the German Federal Constitutional Court found that the Bundestag’s approval of the Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA) was in breach of the German constitution. The measures should have received the approval of a qualified majority in the German Parliament, but failed to do so because there were only 35 members present in the chamber to vote at the time, the court said.

To enter into force, the UPCA must by ratified by Germany, France and the UK, which are the three largest patent-granting states taking part in the EU agreement. The UPC has faced a further setback after the UK declared its intention not to take part in the UPC any longer.

Industry welcomed Breton’s comments on Monday, but also noted the importance of adapting a single framework for a European patent, before steaming ahead with the establishment of the UPC.

“We share his view that Europe’s patent framework needs to be adapted to better suit the challenges of the digital age, and we share his goal of a single European patent. The UPC has the potential to raise the quality and efficiency of the European patent system if implemented well,” said Patrick Oliver, executive director of IP2Innovate, an industry group.

“However, we would urge that the system is adapted first, otherwise the existing imbalances in the European patent system risk being amplified to the detriment of European innovators,” Oliver added.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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