EU ministers gather in hope for breakthrough deal on single patent
European Union ministers gathered in Brussels on Wednesday for talks aimed at breaking a 10-year deadlock over the creation of a single EU-wide patent, DPA reported.
Under the current system, companies can register their inventions with the European Patent Office (EPO), but then have to separately file for protection in each EU state, incurring significant costs ranging from 10,000 to 20,000 euros (13,800-27,600 dollars).
Switching to a unified system would slash those costs, helping the EU close the innovation gap with countries such as the United States, where registering a patent costs around 1,850 euros, according to EU officials.
But reform attempts since 2000 have stalled, as governments could not agree on which languages should be allowed in applications for an EU patent.
In July, the European Commission proposed to stick to EPO's current Anglo-Franco-German regime, but suggested that firms unable to submit requests in one of those languages would have translation costs reimbursed.
Michel Barnier, EU market regulation commissioner, estimated that the proposal would bring the overall cost of an EU-wide patent to 6,200 euros.
But in the following months Spain, Italy and Poland objected, arguing that French and German competitors would have an unfair advantage, and suggested instead to use only English, it being the most common business language.
That was unacceptable for France.
A compromise proposal submitted by Belgium - currently sitting in the EU's rotating presidency - upholds the trilingual regime but foresees an "transitional period" during which French and German applications would have to be translated into English.
In addition, English-language patents would also have to be translated into any one of the other 22 EU official languages.
The proposal would address Spanish, Italian and Polish concerns over the competitive advantage enjoyed by French, German and British competitors, but would add up to an extra 1,700 euros to the cost of an EU patent.
EU officials insist that that would still represent a significant saving compared to the current regime, but Italian and Spanish diplomats indicated that their national vetoes were still holding.
Issuing a veiled threat to the dissenters, Britain, Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden and Ireland wrote to the commission Tuesday asking it to consider whether a willing coalition of states could agree on a restricted version of an EU patent, in case no results were produced Wednesday.
Negotiations were expected to be protracted: with a meeting scheduled to start at 1500 GMT. Officials told the German Press Agency dpa that interpreters for EU ministers had been booked "until 3 am in the morning".