The European Parliament has voted to create a pan-European patent system with the goal of making it cheaper and simpler to obtain patents.
Parliament adopted all three proposed regulations needed to form the new patent system on Tuesday: the regulation on a Unitary Patent, the language regime and the formation of a new unified patent court system.
Not all European Union member states want a part in the new system: Italy and Spain refused to participate, although they may join at any time. The new system will cut the cost of obtaining a patent in the participating countries by up to 80 percent, the Parliament said. The patents will be made available in English, French and German and applications will have to be made in one of those three languages.
The next stage in the legislative process is for the Council of the E.U. to approve Parliament's decision, but that should be a formality since the Council already endorsed the text on Monday, a European Parliament official said. After that, the E.U. member states must each ratify the decision.
"The international agreement creating a unified patent court will enter into force on 1 January 2014 or after thirteen contracting states ratify it, provided that U.K., France and Germany are among them," the Parliament said in a news release. "The other two acts would apply from 1 January 2014, or from the date when the international agreement enters into force, whichever is the latest."
There is no deadline for ratification, though, so the process may take longer to set up, the official said.
The formation of an E.U.-wide patent system has been debated since the seventies, and Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) that favored the current regulation were glad that over 30 years of negotiations a new patent system finally can be formed, they said during the debate on Tuesday morning in Strasbourg.
Making it simpler and cheaper for innovators to register patents can help innovation, as well as making the legal framework simpler, said Toine Manders, a Dutch MEP of the ALDE party who is also an inventor and a lawyer.
Not everyone was pleased with the newly adopted regulation though. MEPs opposing the adopted text are concerned the new system is going to be bad for innovation and business, and by voting for the text, the Parliament is giving away powers, they said.
The new regulation "means the European Parliament will abdicate all its political powers to an organization ... that is outside of the E.U.," said Christian Engström, Pirate Party member of parliament, adding that he still wanted a European patent as long as it did not hamper innovation as he believes the proposal in its current form does.
Ericsson, which holds around 30,000 patents on mobile telecommunications, opposes the new patent system. On Monday it sent a letter to MEPs urging them to vote against the regulations, saying it believes the new system is bad for European business. Ericsson would support patent reform if it resulted in a better system than we have in Europe today, wrote Nina Macpherson, vice president and general counsel of Ericsson. "Unfortunately, the current package of proposals for E.U patent reform does not achieve this important objective," she said.
According to Macpherson, the new system facilitates abusive behavior including the enforcement of weak or invalid patents, and allows patent holders to use threats of pan-European injunctions to extract money for legitimate businesses that make and sell products in Europe. "It will harm innovation, competition and enterprise in Europe for decades to come," she added.
Two other opponents of the new patent system, Nokia and BAE Systems, signed a joint letter to MEPs, warning: "The regulation as it stands will drive European businesses to locate their infrastructure, such as factories and warehouses, outside the jurisdiction and discourage inward investment from companies domiciled outside the E.U."
The website www.unitary-patent.eu obtained the two letters. Representatives of the companies confirmed their authenticity.
Not all businesses share Ericsson's gloomy view. Small and medium sized enterprises stand to gain from lower patent related filing, translation and legal costs, according to the UEAPME, the European craft and SME employers' organization. It welcomed the decision, saying it will act as a driver for innovation and foster SMEs' competitiveness.
Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to [email protected]