Czechs vow to revive Community patent talks

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Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra, responsible for EU affairs, has pledged to work towards devising an EU-wide Community patent. Describing the existing system as “fragmented and inefficient,” he said Europe’s intellectual property infrastructure is stifling innovation and holding back progress on the Lisbon Agenda.

Delivering a keynote speech at Microsoft’s fifth annual Growth and Innovation Day, Vondra said the high cost of filing patents is a major barrier for SMEs and is proving to be a disincentive to bringing new products to market. 

“The key to innovation at times of crisis is incentivisation. Lack of IPR [intellectual property rights] can be fatal to SMEs, who are the main drivers of our economy and who, according to many studies, outperform larger firms in terms of technological importance of their innovations,” Vondra said. 

He called on the EU to prioritise negotiations on a Community patent and find ways to achieve significant savings in translation and procedural requirements. 

“The Czech Presidency is deeply committed to pushing this forward,” he said. The issue was discussed at a meeting of the Competitiveness Council in Brussels yesterday (5 March). 

In a statement released after the meeting, the Council said work to create a Community patent and a patent litigation system would be intensified. 

Alexandr Vondra also highlighted the need to dismantle barriers to the mobility of researchers, saying the Czech Presidency would build on the work of the French Presidency in this area. 

He said further development of the European Research Area (ERA) is crucial, and was highly critical of the EU’s record in linking its researchers together to get maximum value from investment. 

“It is not normal that the EU has so few recognised poles of excellence despite the high quality of our many but scattered research teams. And it is not normal that the EU has no university in the top 20 academic ranking of world universities in engineering and computer science,” Vondra said. 

He pledged to help overcome this fragmentation, and said the Czech Presidency is looking at the possibility of enhancing cooperation between smaller EU member states in developing research infrastructure “in order to pool their often limited human and financial resources”. 

The Competitiveness Council gave its backing to the priorities outlined by Vondra, calling for “further development and coordination of the ERA partnership initiatives”. 

Stronger links between national research activities and practical steps to implement research mobility will also be pursued by member states, it was agreed. 

“These measures could be complemented by the effective implementation of the Lead Markets Initiative and by cluster development,” the Council said. 

Political moves to develop a Community patent for the EU began in March 2003, but progress has been hampered by repeated technical and legal difficulties. The issue was resurrected under the French Presidency last year, and it had originally been hoped that patent issues might form part of the Small Business Act

However, differences over sensitive translation arrangements have proven insurmountable, and a French proposal fell foul of "political obstacles", despite broad agreement that reform is urgently required (EURACTIV 2/12/08). 

Under the existing system, filing a patent in Europe can take twice as long (44 months) than in the US and Japan, while the cost of a European patent is almost five times higher than in the US (€10,330) and three times greater than in Japan (€16,450), research has shown (EURACTIV 9/12/08). 

It has been suggested that many innovative companies, particularly SMEs, should apply for patents in the US in order to bypass the EU regulatory framework. 

  • 17 March: Intellectual Property Rights seminar in Brussels, entitled 'Sustaining Europe's Knowledge and Innovation Economy'. 
  • 28-29 April: Conference on 'Researchers in Europe Without Barriers' in Prague. 

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