EU patent to make or break Belgian Presidency

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Language and legal disputes have prevented several EU presidencies from creating a Community patent. Now Belgium, known for its own linguistic problems, has vowed it will try to resolve the issue during its own stint at the EU's helm. 

At a briefing on the upcoming European Business Summit, Belgian Minister for Economy and Reform Vincent van Quickenborne outlined plans to get the EU's economy back on track, of which the Community Patent would be the Belgian "piece de resistance".

Plans for a Community patent were forged in 2003 but progress has been hampered by repeated technical and legal difficulties, especially a dispute on whether a patent should be translated into all 23 official languages or just three working languages.

Getting the patent off the ground has been the litmus test of the previous French, Czech and Swedish Presidencies, all of which promised to resolve the issue.

Sweden had some success when it forged a political deal in December 2009 but the agreement did not address the thorny issue of translation costs, which will instead be dealt with in a separate regulation.

"We have been working with Michel Barnier for 3-4 months to prepare the completion of the patent before the end of the presidency term," Van Quickenborne said.

"Of course we will still have to resolve the language dispute," he added.  

"The ambition is to have the full proposal by December 2010," the minister continued.

Belgium's own language dispute recently flared as the government collapsed in April after French- and Dutch-speaking parties fell out over electoral boundaries surrounding the capital, Brussels.

After June elections, the two parties that won the most votes, the French-speaking Parti Socialiste and the Flemish-speaking New Flemish Alliance, are currently in talks to forge a possible coalition by September.

"This country is pro-European so we should achieve these big ambitions that we have," Van Quickenborne said.

The Belgian minister dodged questions on deeper economic surveillance of the bloc, a matter EU ministers are currently trying to reform, saying these were a matter for the country's prime minister.

He instead emphasised that the Belgian Presidency would work towards tidying up flaws in the bloc's internal market, including getting an agreement on the EU patent, consumer rights legislation and harnessing the potential of e-commerce.

The minister, however, did admit that there were still great sources of risk in the EU, especially fears of debt contagion in the banking sector and the bigger risk of a double-dip recession coming from the sovereign debt crisis.

The Belgian Presidency will kick off on the same day as the 8th annual European Business Summit, at which over 2,500 participants, including business leaders and policymakers, will debate how to build a more competitive and sustainable European Union. 

Moves to develop a Community patent for the EU began in 2003. Progress has been hampered by repeated technical and legal difficulties, although the Swedish Presidency of the EU moved the issue forward at the end of last year (EURACTIV 04/12/09).

The cost of filing and protecting patents in Europe is substantially higher than in the US and Japan, and business organisations have consistently complained about the fragmented and inconsistent decisions handed down by European courts. 

Companies often have to fight legal actions in several European countries at once, and national courts regularly come to conflicting conclusions on identical cases. The plans for a single patent court will make litigation cheaper and more predictable, diplomatic sources said.

The European Commission has also said it would seek powers from EU member states to conclude an agreement on a unified patent litigation system, which would establish a court with jurisdiction over existing European patents and the future Community patent system (EURACTIV 25/03/09). 

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