Brussels, 19th May 2004
The Council noted that the necessary unanimity could not be found in support of the Presidency's compromise proposal for a Council Regulation on the Community patent. In these circumstances, the Presidency stated its intention of referring this matter to the President of the European Council.
An agreement on the broad outlines of the Regulation was reached in March 2003 (see MEMO/03/47 ) and further progress was made towards overall agreement at the November 2003 Council. However, a small number of points remain outstanding, in particular on requirements for the translation of patents and on how infringements of patents which might arise as a result of mistranslations should be treated.
Recent calculations show that the Community Patent will cost no more than a European Patent covering five countries. That would represent a cost saving to around two-thirds (68 %) of all applicants for European patents, at least 30 000 granted patents a year. For full EU coverage the Community patent would cost only 50% of a European patent for the 25 individual Member States - a saving of at least €30 000 per patent over 10 years.
In addition to the lower costs, Community Patent holders would benefit from far greater legal certainty, because disputes over interpretation would be heard before a single Community Patent Court with pan-EU jurisdiction (see also IP/04/137 ). A European Patent can currently be challenged in each and every country in which it is valid, which can give rise not only to uncertainty and potentially divergent interpretations but also to higher costs.
Commenting after the Council, Internal Market Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said "If I were to say to you that I am bitterly disappointed at the Council's failure today to agree the Community Patent Regulation, you might say "We've heard this before". And you would, unfortunately, be right. With regrettable regularity, a small number of Member States have blocked this proposal by giving precedence to narrow, vested interests rather than the broader interests of boosting Europe's competitiveness by fostering research, development and innovation."
"But may I make clear that today's failure is despite the extraordinary efforts of the Council President, Mary Harney, to find an agreement."
"The Commission will now have to reflect carefully on its next steps. All I can say is that all options are open, including withdrawal of the proposal. After all, if there is no prospect whatsoever of Member States agreeing this proposal, there is no point in keeping it on the Council's table and going round in circles.
I am not saying the proposal will be withdrawn but that withdrawal will be considered. We will have to think very carefully whether another proposal is possible. The trouble is language. Some Member States say we should use just one language, namely English, but one Member State does not agree to that."
Answering questions on vested interests, Mr Bolkestein replied "In various Member States, institutions and practices have become encrusted and they wish to continue in the same way and don't wish to change. In this case, there is opposition to change in two Member States in particular."
"The European Council will be apprised of today's fiasco", he continued. "What is the point of the European Council asking three times for the Competitiveness Council to agree the Community Patent, if it does not do so? This is a lesson we should take to heart."