EU comes up with novel patent idea - cut red tape

New Pan-European process simplifies and cheapens patent registration.

Euro. Picture: AFP

BRUSSELS - A system that made patent registration up to 60 times more expensive in Europe than in China is being scrapped in favour of a one-size-fits-all pan-European process, EU officials said on Monday.

Signing off on a plan first considered in 1973, 25 of the EU's 27 industry ministers - apart from Spain and Italy - agreed to allow inventors to register their idea with one EU agency.

The old system makes the process 18 times more expensive than in the United States and 60 times more than in China.

Under the previous system, patents had to be registered separately in individual EU countries - up to 27 times to cover the whole EU.

Rome and Madrid are challenging the right to proceed at the EU Court of Justice (ECJ), saying the new patent system does not give due recognition to their languages.

A top adviser to Europe's highest court is scheduled to give an opinion on Italy's and Spain's legal challenge on Tuesday and judges in the court will make a ruling in the next few months.

"This is a historic decision that enhances Europe's competitiveness," EU Financial Services Chief Michel Barnier, who attended the meeting of ministers, told a news conference. "The door is open for Italy and Spain to join."

The European Parliament is expected to approve the single patent system on Tuesday in Strasbourg.

If the ECJ rejects Rome's and Madrid's case, the patent can come into force on January 1, 2014.

An EU patent, which will still cost more than double the U.S. level at about 5,000 euros (4,045 pounds) on average, will not revolutionise innovation in Europe overnight.

But the reform is good for business at a time when Americans obtained four times as many patents as Europeans did in 2011.

Patents, which grant the exclusive legal right to develop and exploit an idea for a limited period of time, are seen as central to encouraging innovation by ensuring that innovators can properly benefit from their efforts.