Brussels moots plans for a European Community-wide patent

September 10, 1999

Brussels is proposing to introduce a single European patent. Cash-strapped university technology-transfer offices believe this could save them money and allow more of their research to be patented.

Don Fox, director of innovation and research support at Southampton University, said: "The big problem for the major research universities is that they generate an enormous amount of intellectual property but do not have funds to copyright all that appears exploitable. A Community-wide patent would help."

The commission, which came up with the idea two years ago, will issue a draft regulation covering the European patent system soon. Brussels believes the changes are needed to help boost innovation and make the enforcement and management of intellectual property easier.

At the moment a patent is filed in French, German or English with the European Patent Office and if granted is legal in any EU country. A stumbling block has been the need to have the patents translated for each country, a costly exercise that has to be financed by the holder.

The EC is committed to reducing translation costs by 50 per cent but how it will achieve this is uncertain. Ted Blake, spokesman for the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents, said: "There is a considerable body of opinion that says that English, which accounts for more than 60 per cent of patent applications across the union, should be one of the major languages under the new system. But whichever language you choose, some countries will object."

Under the present system, completing the EPO stage of filing a patent can cost up to Pounds 10,000. Translations to cover all the EU countries can add at least a further Pounds 9,000 depending on the complexity and length of the patent. In addition there are annual patent renewal fees that vary but are typically a few hundred pounds.

Paul Sadler, commercial director of Birmingham Research and Development Ltd, Birmingham University's technology transfer arm, said: "We would definitely welcome a single European patent but clearly the decision over which language or languages to use is critical and problematic."

The commission plans to hold a conference on the European patent system next June.

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