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."
Passing the Plan
The patent plan already had the approval of ministers from 25 of the 27 European Union states and on Tuesday just before the parliament vote, the top legal officer of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) recommended dismissal of objections from Spain and Italy.
The ECJ's Advocate General, Yves Bot, whose opinion the court normally follows, said it "should reject all the pleas put forward by Spain and Italy and, consequently, dismiss both actions."
Madrid and Rome had challenged the right of their EU partners to go ahead with the new system under an "enhanced cooperation" procedure.
They objected in particular that their rights would suffer because the new patents would be in three languages only -- English, French and German.
Bot said the EU did have the authority to adopt the enhanced cooperation procedure and in this case, had exercised this power properly.
A single patent system would also not disadvantage some member states, as argued, he said, adding that the language provisions alone did not determine the validity of the enhanced cooperation procedure.
Victory on the patent battle -- which EU President Herman Van Rompuy's recently-retired chief of staff, Frans Van Daele, said was the biggest issue in town 40 years ago when he first entered the bloc's hierarchy -- is seen as a vital contributor to economic growth going forward.
The years or haggling were finally led to a breakthrough at a June summit of EU leaders when Britain, France and Germany agreed to divide the spoils, with London, Paris and Munich hosting different parts of the new system.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012