Finnegan's Take

They bottled it: EU leaders were due to talk about ways to improve Europe’s hotpotch intellectual property regime on Friday but thought better of it.

The item was put on the afternoon agenda because industry ministers had decided before Christmas on the way forward.

The trouble was that their plan for ‘enhanced cooperation’ means most countries will move ahead with a unified patent and those who cannot agree will be left behind.

This effectively screamed ‘Screw your Italy, we’re going ahead without you!’

The Italians (and often the Spanish) had insisted on patents being translated into their language as well as English, French and German and no compromise was in sight.

So, Friday was meant to be time for a showdown, resulting in a breakthrough showing Europe was serious about competitiveness, small businesses and high-tech job creation.

Innovation was finally on the agenda, having originally been slated for last autumn’s summit only to be overshadowed by more urgent matters (the eurozone debt crisis).

This time, the innovation debate was to take place after lunch. But by the time EU leaders had spent hours over lunch talking about the euro (and drafting a weak statement on Egypt) few were in the mood to face down (a politically wounded) Berlusconi over the EU patent.

The lunch debate had spoiled their appetite.

So they produced conclusions announcing they’d cut red tape for small businesses and remove barriers to venture capital. Worthy stuff, but easily copied and pasted from any European Commission innovation blurb or borrowed from the conclusions of a Competitiveness Council.

In short, they could have offered a good news story as a side-bar to the understandable media obsession with the financial crisis. But they didn’t.

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