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European Union: Moves Toward a Common Patent System and a Patent Court

(Dec. 30, 2009) At the European Union level, the debate about a single European patent system has been going on for the last 20 years without any result, mainly because the EU Members, due to political considerations, have been reluctant to make the necessary changes to replace their own patent systems with a common one. In 2000, the European Commission had proposed an EU regulation on patents, but it did not come to fruition. In 2007, in a renewed attempt to iron out the differences among the EU Members, the European Commission published a communication entitled “Enhancing the Patent System in Europe,” which made specific recommendations on establishing a common EU-wide patent. As the Commission noted, individuals or companies wishing to register a patent in 13 EU Member States, paid 11 times more than those who registered the same patent in the United States and 13 times more than those who registered it in Japan.

Finally, on December 4, 2009, the ministers from each EU Member that represent industries in their respective countries reached a political agreement on two critical issues: establishing a single patent system across the EU and setting up a single European appeals court to adjudicate disputes on patent infringements. Such an agreement is deemed to be of paramount importance for companies, because it will eliminate the need to institute parallel litigation proceedings in the domestic courts of EU Members.

Although several issues remain to be resolved, including the need to reduce high translation costs, nevertheless, as EU industry Commissioner Gunter Verheugen, commented, the agreement “comes at a moment when it is most needed.” Based on EU studies, once the single system is in place, companies paying for patents in Europe will be able to save at least €150 million (about US$214,268,000) annually. (Andrew Willis, EU Takes Big Step Towards Common Patent System, EU OBSERVER, Dec. 4, 2009, available at New Roman'”>