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European patent - encouraging research and innovation - 15/04/2011

A hand drawing a lightbulb © iStockphoto.com/NicolasLoran

Commission proposes a patent to protect inventions in 25 EU countries.

A bicycle with power-assisted steering or access to the internet through an electric socket - these innovations were made in the EU. Patent protected, they cannot be manufactured, used or marketed without the patent holder's permission.

Current procedures to apply for a patent are complicated and expensive. Once granted by the European Patent Office (EPO), patents have to be validated by every EU country where the inventor wishes to have protection. Apart from the administrative formalities, this procedure involves considerable expenses for translation. To protect an invention throughout the EU, a company has to pay up to €32 000, as opposed to €1 850 on average in the US.

25 EU countries (all 27 except Spain and Italy) have decided this is too much, and are working to create a standard EU patent that will be both simple and affordable. The initiative is now at the stage of draft EU law.

Under the new system, a patent will eventually cost €680 - far less than currently. And by creating an environment more favourable to innovation - an essential requirement for sustainable economic growth - the system will encourage investors and researchers, and strengthen increase the degree of economic integration in Europe.

Specifically, the new law proposed by the Commission would have the following effects:

  • Once agreed, the standard patent would automatically be valid in the 25 EU countries, avoiding the need for red tape and expensive translations
  • Patent applications could be made in any language. While they would always have to be available in one of the EPO's working languages (English, French or German), any translation costs to the patent holder would be reimbursed
  • Until the system could offer automatic translation, temporary rules would apply regarding additional translations.

The draft EU laws have been submitted to the EU Council and European Parliament for comment - and the Commission hopes Spain and Italy will eventually decide to join the scheme.

More on EU patents

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