EU hopes for Community patent under French Presidency

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Talks on setting up a European patent system made good progress at the meeting of EU industry ministers yesterday (29 May), but sensitive translation arrangements remain the main obstacle, the Slovenian EU Presidency said after the meeting.

Although work at technical level has not been completed yet, several proposals are on the table now, Slovenian Economy Minister Andrej Vijzak said. 

“If there is enough political will, I am confident of having a solution soon, maybe even under the French Presidency,” Vijzak stated. 

The main stumbling block in the negotiations on a Community patent and a related litigation system, which have been going on for over a decade now, is the issue of translation arrangements. 

The Slovenian Presidency has proposed two options. One foresees a ‘flexible patent’, which would allow the owner to decide in which country the claim would be protected, while the second option calls for translation into all official EU languages by an automated computer system. The latter is the one favoured by a majority of member states. 

The main difference between the options is that that in the latter, translation had no legal status, contrary to the first one. 

Regarding the Community patent, the Presidency particularly highlighted the cost aspect, saying that a cost-effective patent system had particular benefits to SMEs. 

Joachim Rohwedder, vice-president of VDMA, the largest engineering association of the European capital goods industry, backed this view, saying that high costs were the main reason SMEs are refraining from registering patent rights. 

“Today, patent registration in Europe is more costly than in the US and Japan, with translation requirements are a particular burden,” Rohwedder stated, calling for a Community Patent with a cost-effective language regime. 

Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy lauded the Slovenian presidency for putting in “extraordinary efforts in advancing this issue”. 

In parallel to the patent talks, ministers also took note of the progress of the ‘Better Regulation’ initiative (see EURACTIV Links Dossier), agreeing that further cutting red tape was vital to Europe’s competitiveness. 

In 2007, the bloc had agreed to cut the administrative burden by 25% by 2012. 

Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen said that the Commission was on track to complete the screening of EU legislation and present another package of proposals for its simplification by the end of the year. 

The Czech delegation also presented a proposal calling for even more substantial steps. Initiated together with the UK, it also attracted the backing of Denmark, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, with Lithuania and Ireland expected to support it. 

The Slovenian Public Administration Minister Gregor Virant called this declaration “interesting and useful”, but stressed that it was not a common EU project and the focus should be on the bloc’s initial better regulation initiative. 

The ministers also agreed to create conditions for reducing the fragmentation of the European venture capital market, which should help overcome the lack of equity and investment capital for financing SMEs. 

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