It was expected, but still a relief for promoters of European innovation. Yesterday, the European Parliament voted in favour of a common EU patent system, under a so-called enhanced cooperation procedure.
A common EU patent, valid in all EU countries, may sound like a common-sense idea. But attempts to create such a system has been blocked for many years, primarily because some countries (like Italy and Spain) insist that a common patent would need to be translated into all EU languages. This would make it too expensive.
Consequently it proved impossible to get the required unanimity for a common system among the EU’s 27 member states. So in December, twelve of them proposed taking advantage of the enhanced co-operation procedure which would allow the creation of an affordable EU patent system limited to just those countries willing to compromise on the language issue. Those in disagreement could remain outside, but with the option of joining in later.
The EU has only resorted to the enhanced cooperation procedure once before – for the 2010 divorce rules.
Currently, national patents can coexist alongside a European patent, issued by the European Patent Office, a non-EU body, but the system is complex, expensive and infringements are hard to track.
The European Council of Competitiveness Ministers is expected to formally adopt the decision to use an enhanced cooperation procedure when it meets on 9-10 March. Then the European Commission can put forward specific legislation governing a common patent and enabling limited translation requirements.