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Commission proposes the creation of a Community Patent

The European Commission has proposed the creation of a Community Patent to give inventors the option of obtaining a single patent legally valid throughout the European Union. The proposal aims to significantly lessen the burden on business and encourage innovation by making it cheaper to obtain a patent and by providing a clear legal framework in case of dispute.06 Jul 2000

Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said: "A single patent will slash the costs of patent coverage while guaranteeing a high level of protection. Such a Community Patent will provide an important competitive tool to European industry and notably SMEs in the age of the new economy."

At present, patents are awarded either on a national basis or through the European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich, which grants so-called European Patents. These are essentially a bundle of national patents. The EPO offers a single application and granting procedure and so saves the applicant the trouble of having to file with a series of national patent offices. But each Member State may still require that, in order to be legally valid in their territory, the European Patent must be translated into their official languages. Moreover, in the case of disputes, it is national courts that are competent so that, in principle, there can be 15 different legal proceedings, with different procedural rules in every Member State and with the risk of different outcomes.

The costs of translation mean that it is currently significantly more expensive to patent an invention in Europe than it is in the US or Japan. When added to the potential inconvenience of working with a variety of different legal systems in case of dispute, the current system is a significant barrier to research, development and innovation.

Under the Commission's new proposal for a Council Regulation, Community Patents would be issued by the European Patent Office. National and European Patents would co-exist with the Community Patent system, so that inventors would be free to choose which type of patent protection best suited their needs.

According to Commission figures, at present, a typical European Patent (to apply in eight Member States) costs approximately £31,500, of which 25% of the cost relates to translation costs. To cover all 15 member states, translation costs for all eleven EU official languages are enormous. By comparison, in the US, obtaining a patent costs approximately £6,500 and in Japan, £10,400. Under the new Community Patent, the patent need only be in English, French or German and a small part of it (defining the patent’s scope of protection) translated into each of the other two languages.