Summit puts end to EU patent turf war

European patent.jpg

EU leaders have forged a compromise that will end a long-running dispute over a common European patent, clearing the way for easier and less costly way of registering products.

National leaders ended their two-day summit on Friday (29 June) by agreeing to divide the functions of the European patent court between the three countries eager to host it – France, Germany and Britain. The location of the patent court was the last outstanding issue in a long-fought effort.  

The deal was reported by EURACTIV Italy ahead of the summit.

While the summit was still ongoing, Council President Herman Van Rompuy tweeted the news, later announcing at a press conference the “historic breakthrough” and praising the “spirit of compromise”.

Apparently exhausted by a summit that lasted through the night, he then left to Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt to announce the details that crowned her country’s six-month stint in the rotating EU presidency.

The main seat – the Central Division of the Court of First Instance of the Unified Patent Court (UPC) – will be in Paris. The first president of the court would come from France, as the member country hosting the central division.

Given the highly specialised nature of patent litigation, two sections will be established – one in London and the other in Munich, the Danish prime minister said. [Details are contained in the Summit Conclusions]

The three cities have been involved in a stand-off over which would win the court. The registration and defence of patents can be an intensive process, involving costly legal work and specialist attorneys.

Business circles and MEPs have denounced the turf wars on the EU patent, which costs European businesses at least €425,000 per day, according to calculations by the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry, or Eurochambres.

Language problems

Apart from the location issue, the EU patent was delayed by a protracted disagreements over what languages would be used. Italy and Spain objected to French, German and English being the official languages, claiming it would give unfair advantage to companies based in France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

On 11 March 2011, ministers from 25 member states decided to go ahead with plans to introduce a common system for registering patents, without Spain and Italy, using the so-called 'enhanced co-operation' mechanism. The mechanism allows a group of at least nine EU countries to adopt new common rules among themselves, in areas where an EU-wide agreement cannot be reached.

Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier welcomed the Council decision, saying the compromise reached is a decisive step towards the creation of a unitary patent and a common patent court in Europe.

“The reform will create a simpler application process and considerably reduce the costs for obtaining patent protection,” Barnier said in a statement. “All future unitary patents will eventually be available in all official EU languages, thus ensuring the dissemination of knowledge and benefiting inventors. I hope that Spain and Italy will also join the new regime soon.”

He said Europe is falling behind the United States and China in the number of patents issued.

French President François Hollande told a news conference there were no winners or losers. "What took place was a compromise, and it was because France and Germany were united, all through the night, that we achieved this compromise," Hollande said.

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the proposal on 4 July. This would open the way toward having the first unitary patent will be registered in 2014. 

"I would like to congratulate the Danish presidency of the European Union on today’s agreement on the unitary patent.  When implemented, the agreement will greatly improve the Transatlantic innovation ecosystem.  This development is of particular significance at a time when innovation is the prime driver of economic growth and long-term job creation,” said U.S. Ambassador William Kennard.


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