Finnegan's Take

Patent reform shelved pending European Cout of Justice decision

European member states have found a new excuse for their failure to agree on the community patent system which all are agreed is essential to the much-vaunted “knowledge economy”: the positive move to introduce a unified patent litigation system (UPLS) requires the opinion of the European Court of Justice.

The court can take up to 18 months to reply, thus providing politicians with cover for doing nothing until 2011.

At this week’s Competitiveness Council briefing by the Swedish Presidency of the EU, a spokesperson said they’d love to make progress on patent reform as it is a priority (just as it was for the Czechs and the French and many others before them). However, they have to wait until the ECJ reports back before putting the issue on the agenda again.

I love the Swedes. As a Presidency they are open and easy to deal with. But this line on patent reform is baloney.

At last night’s debate on Europe’s future innovation policy, patent reform was high on the ‘to do’ list. With a new European Innovation Act promised by the spring, SME groups will be piling on the pressure to have cheaper, simpler intellectual property protection at the heart of the Commission’s plans.

But there’s no need to wait for the ECJ to make progress. Bruegel has already suggested halving patent fees for SMEs. That would be a start.

We could also make better use of existing IPR data to avoid duplication of research – something that has little to do with the litigation system being examined by judges at the ECJ.

And, as everyone knows, what’s holding up a European Community patent is not simply a legal technicality – it’ s a long-running argument over translation costs which presses hypersensitive cultural and political buttons.

If there is genuine will to crack this particular nut as part of a newly-invigorated innovation policy, the Swedish Presidency must push for progress on patent reform so the EU is ready to plow ahead once the ECJ gives the green light on the new patent court system.

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  1. Good points Gary. Let me just repeat what I stated at this week’s event :
    Reading the impact assessment to the Commission proposal for a single community Patent (some years ago…) I spotted that the estimated additional cost of the current 28 systems (27 natinal + EPO), when compared to the proposed single one was ore than the investment the EU will make in the 7 years CIP programme (or maybe just to 1 year of the programme- I do not remember and have not checked the figures).
    Hence my proposal for a huge simplification of the EU policy on innovation : stop all calls for proposals for innovation support measures until MS agree between themselves on a single, effective, Community Patent.
    The saved moneys could be simply given back to Member States to help SMEs to fight the crisis or reallocated (by the EU or by the Member states to whom it would be given back) to more targeted support for not so high-tech SMEs which are often developing innovative, but medium-tech products and services. For example to advise them in filing quality patents and for supporting them in defending those.

  2. Ah yes – you suggested this at the innovation debate on Tuesday. Great idea! (I’ve put the main proposal in bold in case some readers are feeling lazy).

    I’m sure ‘political will’ would be found very rapidly if funding was cut off.

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