If you want to patent your idea in Europe, you can apply in each individual country or you can go to the European Patent Office (EPO). In this day and age, it would be foolish not to go a centralised body, right? Well, there is one nagging detail that may give you pause, notes the Financial Times in an opinion piece (free registration required) published on 10 December: “Patents issued by [the EPO] must still be validated individually in each European state.” On top of that, the process is prohibitively expensive: it costs about 10 times more to patent an idea in Europe than it does in the United States. A unified European patent process that has been backed by the European Commission in spite of opposition by some EU member states aims to eliminate these redundancies and unnecessary expenses. The initiative is soundly applauded by the FT and should be welcomed by the medical device manufacturing community. In 2009, the medical technology sector accounted for the largest number of patents filed in Europe. That is triumph in the face of adversity—imagine how much more could be accomplished with a sensibly designed pan-European patent system?
Before the legislative process on the establishment of a European patent can begin in earnest, the 11 member states that have agreed to work towards implementation of the patent via the “enhanced cooperation” procedure must show that every effort has been made to reach unanimity. The 40-year-old impasse that has prevented a consensus from forming has centered largely on language issues. Since a single document in English is not a politically viable solution, a sensible compromise would be for the core patent claim to be translated into English, German and French, notes the FT. Not surprisingly, Spain and Italy are strongly opposed. Belgium, which currently holds the EU Council Presidency, is to be commended for jumping over this impasse by using the enhanced cooperation procedure, which allows nine or more member states to move forward on an issue that is blocked by a small number of member states.
European Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier commented that he hoped these deliberations would be wrapped up by the end of 2011. It’s about time.Norbert Sparrow