More on the proposals
- Holders of European patents can apply for unitary patent protection for the territory of 25 member states at the European Patent Office (EPO). The patent will ensure the same level of protection for their inventions in all 25 countries.
- Patent applications can be submitted in any language. The EPO will continue to examine and grant applications in English, French or German (the official languages of the EPO). For applicants residing in the EU who file their patent application in a language other than the three EPO languages, the cost of translation to one of the official languages of the EPO will be compensated. The patent claims (defining the scope of the protection) will be translated into the other two official languages of the EPO.
- For a transitional period (maximum 12 years), European patents with unitary effect that were granted in French or German will need to be translated to English. The ones granted in English will need to be translated to another official language of the EU. These translations will be required until high-quality machine translation becomes available to ensure the accessibility of patent information. The additional translations during the transitional period will directly help the development of high-quality machine translations.
- The proposals do not affect the procedural costs leading up to the grant of European patents (the so-called pre-grant costs).
Current situation for patents in Europe
The current European patent system, particularly the phase after granting a patent, is very expensive and complex. This is widely recognised as a hindrance to innovation in Europe.
The European Patent Office – comprises of 38 countries (EU 27 + 11 other European countries) – examines patent applications and is responsible for granting European patents if the relevant conditions are met.
However for a granted patent to be effective in a member state, the inventor has to request validation in each country where patent protection is sought. This process involves considerable translation and administrative costs, reaching approximately 32,000 euro (28,124 GBP) when patent protection is sought in the EU27, of which 23,000 euro (20,215 GBP) arises from translation fees alone. Obtaining patent protection in 27 member states today, including the procedural costs, could reach 36,000 euro (31,640 GBP). In comparison, a US patent costs on average 1,850 euro (1,626 GBP).
Also, the maintenance of patents requires the payment of annual renewal fees country by country and a transfer of the patent or a licensing agreement to use the patented invention has to be registered the same way.
The Commission's proposal for a single EU patent has been under discussion for over a decade but there has been stalemate in the Council concerning language rules. The Commission tried to unblock the file by presenting its 2010 proposal on the EU patent’s translation requirements (IP/10/870). But since the Council could not agree unanimously on the applicable translation regime, in December 2010 the Commission tabled a proposal opening the way for enhanced cooperation to be authorised in this area (IP/10/1714). On 10 March 2011, following the consent given by the European Parliament on 15 February, the Competitiveness Council adopted the authorising decision to establish unitary patent protection in the territories of the 25 participating member states.
Under the EU Treaty and the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, enhanced cooperation allows nine or more member states to move forward on in a particular area as a last resort if no agreement can be reached by the EU as a whole within a reasonable period. Other member states can opt to join at any stage before or after enhanced cooperation has been launched.
For more information, please contact the London press office on 020 7973 1971.
Please note: all amounts expressed in sterling are for information purposes only