Small, innovative companies should be given special status by the European Patent Office (EPO) in order to remove barriers to intellectual property protection, according to a new report by the Brussels-based Bruegel think-tank.
The time, expertise and costs involved in filing new patents is prohibitive for small firms, independent inventors and universities, according to the report’s author, Bruno Van Pottelsberghe of Brussels Free University (ULB).
Driving costs skyward are the fees charged by the EPO, the price of retaining expert legal and technical advice, and translation costs. Enforcing patents in several European jurisdictions is also expensive, Van Pottelsberghe says, who says the introduction of a single patent court could save businesses up €289 million per year. The report suggests creating special patent status for SMEs and young innovative companies, which would bring Europe’s patent system into line with the US and Japan, where small firms have enjoyed special treatment for many years.
“This would imply setting reduced SME fees at the EPO at, for instance, about half the fee level applicable to other companies,” the report says. Europe’s system must be streamlined to make it more attractive to all users, said Van Pottelsberghe, who called for major reform of how the EPO is run.
He was critical of the governance structures of the Office, which has a board made up of 35 representatives of patent offices in member states. A new administrative council with just 10 members from national patent offices, plus representatives of businesses, consumer associations and the academic sector is proposed as an alternative.
The report suggests greater cooperation between patent offices across the world but, in light of varying quality standards between Europe and the US, falls short of calling for mutual recognition of patents.