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Thursday, February 21, 2013

It only took 37 years but the “Multi-speed” patent is good news for Europe

They’re still those who talk about a “multi-speed” Europe as something of the future. Well, first, as ever, multi-speed is an inappropriate expression – the point is that the end destination for different EU countries no longer is the same (i.e. the Eurozone and the UK). Secondly, different levels of participation are already a fact of life in the EU.

This week's decision by EU ministers to launch the EU’s unified patent court is a case in point. The Court is set up to police the EU’s new single patent system, which was agreed in 2011 under enhanced cooperation. Spain and Italy have already said they won’t take part (though curiously Italy signed this week's agreement, but says it will have none of the unitary patent system). In addition, Poland and Bulgaria didn’t sign the agreement, but remain open to joining later. The reasons for not signing vary, from principal language concerns (the working languages will be English, French and German only) to cost concerns. Incidentally, we note that the Polish government has been pretty critical of those who do not support ‘more Europe’, but in a short period of time, it has now ditched the single EU patent and vetoed the EU’s carbon roadmap.

In any case, this is flexible Europe in action.

Overall, the single patent will massively reduce cost. From 1 January 2014, inventors and SMEs will now only have to apply for and register the patent once, and gain protection in all member states. This will reduce the burden on entrepreneurs/innovators and slash the cost of patent enforcement. The establishment of this Court excludes the ECJ, which is a positive step, though there’s currently a pending court case brought by Spain and Italy who say the whole affair violates EU law.

As agreed by the European Council in June, the seat of the Court’s central division will be in Paris but two other thematic divisions will be created: one in London for chemicals and human necessities, the other in Munich for mechanical engineering.

It only took 37 years. But better late than never – and credit to EU ministers for making this happen, and the Commission for pushing it.

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