Brussels, 12 Mar 2004
'Walk the talk' was the message sent to politicians at the European Business Summit taking place in Brussels on 11 March. If European leaders want a competitive Europe, they must resolve the Community Patent deadlock now, urged European business representatives.
'There is no time for internal dispute' said Paul van Grevenstein, President of the Association of European Science and Technology Transfer Professionals. 'We must reach an agreement to fight against the US, Japan, South-East Asia and India.'
Patents are extremely important in promoting and enhancing competition while at the same time protecting innovators and guaranteeing them economic benefits. It is therefore of primordial importance for the EU to have European patents valid Community-wide.
At present, however, the cost of applying for patents is too high in Europe compared to the costs in the US and Japan. This is mainly due to translation and litigation costs. The application system is also cumbersome and lacks transparency.
However, claimed Thierry Sueur, Air Liquide Vice-President for Intellectual Property, the European Patent in its present form, although not perfect, is better than the current proposal. 'We do not want what we have on the table at the moment as it would kill EU competitiveness,' said Mr Sueur. 'We should either keep the original system or postpone taking a decision until we are ready.'
All participants agreed that the present proposal, which states that all claims should be translated into all 20 languages, is unacceptable.
Ingo Kober, President of the European Patent Office (EPO), stated that English is the language used by most senior researchers and scientists, and that statistics show that translations are not read. Translating patents into all Community languages would therefore be a waste of time and money, he said.
The Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe (UNICE) has for a long time been advocating the use of a single language, English - a proposal many see as the most coherent suggestion. If this cannot be agreed, said Mr Kober, we should at least maintain the status quo and work with the languages currently used, namely English, French and German.
Participants also emphasised the need to implement the European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA). With the existence of some 600,000 European Patent Convention (EPC) patents, it has become increasingly essential that an improved European litigation system be created. The EPLA would work as a test ground for the functioning of a pan-European court system, with a language regime and mixed chambers from different jurisdictions.
A unitary patent court is the way forward. The proposed involvement of national patent offices is not acceptable emphasised both Mr Kober and Mr Sueur.
Both expressed the hope that following the European Parliament's endorsement of a Directive on the Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights, the Council would follow suit.
This, however, has not happened. The Competitiveness Council, also meeting on 11 March, failed once again to reach an agreement on the Community Patent.
'We are further away from an agreement than in November,' said a spokesperson for the Irish government, which had been banking on successful talks to kick-start European competitiveness.
Mary Harney, Ireland's Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, said in a statement said she regretted that none of the options put forward had 'been acceptable to some Member States', but she insisted that 'we have to bring this matter to a conclusion very soon, either in the form of an agreement or otherwise'.