After talking about it for 40 years, the European Council finally reached agreement this summer on what it thought was the last obstacle standing in the path of a unified EU patent system: where to put the office.
The main office will be in Paris, and specialized divisions in Munich and London will handle mechanical engineering (Germany) and chemistry, pharmaceuticals, and life sciences (the UK).
But just when Europe’s inventors were starting to celebrate, a new hurdle arose.
The European Parliament isn’t happy that the EU Court of Justice will be excluded from the new patent system. And the Court of Justice had earlier ruled that removing it from the patent process would be a breach of EU treaties.
The EU’s executive is working to come up with a solution by this fall.
However, even after that happens the regulations will need to be adopted by the national ministers in the Council of the EU, then signed by the heads of the member governments, and then ratified by the national legislatures of at least 13 of the EU member states.
However, Spain and Italy (remind me some time to tell you about the Italian patent maintenance fee morass some time) are refusing to back the new system because the official languages for patents will be limited to English, French, and German. So only 25 of the 27 EU countries will be included.
At this point, it looks like the earliest the new EU patent system could actually issue patents is 2015.
Under the current system, companies have to pay up to the equivalent of about $22,600 for a patent that’s valid in only 13 European countries. It costs about $38,000 to $44,000 to protect a patent across the EU. The new system is expected to be 70% cheaper.
Only about one third as many patents are filed with the European Patent Office as with the USPTO. Filing costs are also much lower in the US.
A unified EU Patent Court will also eliminate the risk of a patent being challenged in multiple European jurisdictions, with the potential of differing results from country to country muddling up a tech company’s ability to market products across the continent.