To unlock Europe’s innovation potential, the EU should adhere to the European Patent Convention rather than pursue the creation of a community patent on which unanimous consent is impossible, argues ProTon Europe, an organisation specialised in knowledge transfer, in an interview with EURACTIV.
“The Community patent has been under discussion for 34 years. We can’t wait for another 30 years to have a single patenting system in Europe,” said Gilles Capart, chairman of the ProTon patent policy special interest group.
Capart was speaking on 12 September 2007 as the board of ProTon Europe held a debate on the improvement of the patent system in Europe and presented its patent policy statement to the European Commission as “a contribution to the urgent reform of the patent system in Europe”.
ProTon Europe, the largest international organisation for knowledge transfer in Europe, considers the patent system an essential tool for knowledge transfer from public research.
“Most pre-competitive research is performed by public research organisations, such as universities, which are key source of innovation from technology transfer to knowledge transfer. In the United States, more than 70% of all patents are performed by public research organisations (PROs). In Europe, university patents represent only 2.5% of filed European Patent Office (EPO) patents whereas their contribution to innovation is much higher – some 30-50%,” explained Capart. In addition, “university patents are strategic, as they are designed to encourage investment in innovation whereas many industry patents are tactical, intended to protect market share,” he added.
“Europe is not good at knowledge transfer because we create our own complexities. We shoot ourselves in the foot with small technical points that everybody says are crucial for their national identities. These small technical things create opportunity costs and make the whole process more expensive,” added the chairman of the board of ProTon Europe Gillian McFadzean.
“The proposed community patent would help, but may not be the best route as it is too little too late and the new member states are not in favour of such a patent anyway. Adopting the European Patent Convention (EPC) would be far better – the London Protocol is ready to be implemented,” argued Capart.
However, he emphasised that in order to better use the EPC for universities one should introduce a ‘grace period’ to allow patents to be filed after disclosure as well as allow provisional patent applications to increase the quality of university patents. In addition, patent fees for universities and research and technology organisations (RTOs) should be reduced. “Why tax public research,” asked Capart.
Nevertheless, “knowledge transfer is not only about patents,” said McFadzean. In addition to introducing an easier patent system, “we need to get member states and university senior managers to take seriously the university’s role, for the public benefit, in helping social and economic development in Europe,” she added.
McFadzean also thinks that the current consultation on European Research Area (ERA) will result in a requirement for member states to support their universities in creating knowledge transfer offices (KTOs) with professional people specialised in KT.