Brussels, 1 July 2010
Patents: Commission proposes translation arrangements for future EU Patent
A proposal on translation arrangements for a future EU Patent, the final element needed for a single EU Patent to become a reality, has been presented today by the European Commission. Today, obtaining a patent in Europe costs ten times more than one in the US. This situation discourages research, development and innovation, and undermines Europe's competitiveness. That is why Europe needs to act so that innovators can protect their inventions at an affordable cost with a single patent covering the entire EU territory with minimum translation costs and without needing to validate that patent at a national level as they currently have to do. The new proposal builds on the successful three language system at the European Patent Office (EPO) and, if adopted, would drastically reduce existing translation costs.
Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier said: "For Europe to be competitive globally, we need to encourage innovation. That's not the case today – it is far too expensive and complicated to obtain a patent. An EU Patent equally valid in all EU countries, is crucial to stimulate research and development and will drive future growth. Today's proposal – the last element of the patent reform package - is good news for innovators across Europe, in particular small businesses. I now hope that Member States will act quickly to ensure the EU patent becomes a reality. I am committed to working closely with all sides to reach a final agreement."
Existing situation for patents in Europe
The current European patent system, particularly in terms of translation requirements, is very expensive and complex. The EPO – an intergovernmental body which includes 37 countries (EU 27 + 10 other European countries) – examines applications for a patent and is responsible for granting a European Patent if the relevant conditions are met. But for the granted patent to be effective in a Member State, the inventor then has to request validation at national level. This implies translation and administrative costs.
Because of the costs involved, most of the inventors only patent their invention in a very limited number of Member States. A European Patent validated for example in 13 countries costs as much as € 20 000, of which nearly € 14 000 arises from translations alone. This makes a European Patent more than 10 times more expensive than an American patent which costs about € 1850.
Negotiations on the EU Patent
The Commission proposed a Regulation for a Community Patent in August 2000 (now referred to as the EU Patent under the Lisbon Treaty). In December 2009, Member States unanimously adopted conclusions on an enhanced patent system in Europe (see IP/09/1880). The package agreed covered the key elements to bring about a single EU Patent and establish a new patent court in the EU but excluded translation arrangements. On the new patent court, an opinion from the European Court of Justice on the compatibility of the draft Agreement with the EU Treaties is awaited later this year. Today's proposal completes the necessary package by setting out the translation arrangements for EU Patents.
Translation arrangements for EU Patents
Under today's proposal for a Council Regulation, processing costs for an EU Patent covering 27 Member States would be less than € 6200, of which only 10% would be due to translations.
The Commission's proposal builds on the existing language regime of the EPO. The Commission proposes that EU Patents will be examined and granted in one of the official languages of the EPO - English, French or German. The granted patent will be published in this language which will be the authentic (i.e. legally binding) text. The publication will include translations of the claims into the other two EPO official languages. The claims are the section of the patent defining the scope of protection of the invention.
No further translations into other languages will be required from the patent proprietor except in the case of a legal dispute concerning the EU patent. In this case, the patent proprietor may be required to provide further translations at his or her own expense. For example, the proprietor may have to supply a copy of the patent into the language of an alleged infringer, or into the language of the court proceedings when this is different from the language of the patent.
The Commission's proposal also sets out accompanying measures to be agreed in order to make the patent system more accessible to innovators. First, high quality machine translations of EU patents into all official languages of the EU should be made available. Inventors in Europe will therefore have better access to technical information on patents in their native language. In addition, in order to facilitate access to the EU patent for applicants from countries in the EU that have a language other than English, French or German among their official languages, inventors will have the possibility to file applications in their own language. The costs for the translation into the language of proceedings of the EPO (to be chosen from English, French or German by the applicant when they file the application) will be eligible for reimbursement.
Member States reached a political agreement in December 2009 by adopting Council Conclusions and a general approach on a Regulation for an EU Patent (see IP/10/1880). This agreement covers the main features both of a new patent court in Europe and the future EU Patent, but excluding the translation arrangements. However, Member States agreed that the translations for the EU Patent would form part of a separate Regulation. The Commission has therefore presented this proposal concerning the translation arrangements for the EU Patent.
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