STRASBOURG - The decades-old dream of a genuine cross-border patent regime for Europe is a reality after the European Parliament and the EU's top court approved moves Tuesday to streamline the system.

In decisions that will slash costs for business and help protect copyright, a large majority of lawmakers sitting in Strasbourg backed changes negotiated for a generation and more.

The current European patent regime "is effectively a tax on innovation," said Italian conservative lawmaker Raffaele Baldassarre.

The new single patent is intended to provide a simpler, cheaper and more effective system to manage 60,000 patent applications a year across the 27-member EU.

This figure trails applications in China and the United States and it is hoped that the new regime will encourage more people to register their inventions.

On Wednesday, UN data said China's State Intellectual Property Office had received a whopping 526,412 patent applications last year compared to 503,582 for the United States and 342,610 for third place-holder Japan.

With the reform, the cost of filing patent applications in Europe would fall progressively from around 30,000 euros ($39,000) to 5,000 euros, the EU executive has said. The rules become effective in 2014.

"We are thinking about smaller businesses who ... so far, didn't have the means to develop given the high cost of filing patent applications," said French MEP Catherine Trautmann after the vote.

"This should no longer prove an obstacle," she said.

The new rules do not cover software patents, which centrist lawmakers in the parliament stressed should remain "outside of the scope of the European unitary patent."