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Brussels, 12 February 1999

Patents: Commission outlines ambitious series of measures

A series of concrete measures to improve the framework for obtaining patent protection in the European Union (EU) are outlined in a policy Communication just adopted by the European Commission. These measures will include a proposal for a Regulation to establish a unitary EU patent valid throughout the EU, a proposal for a Directive on patent protection of inventions related to computer programmes, an interpretative Communication on freedom of establishment and freedom to provide services for patent agents and a pilot action to support efforts by national patent offices to promote innovation. The Communication reflects the results of consultations with the European Parliament and a wide range of interested parties on the basis of the Commission's June 1997 Green Paper on patents (see IP/97/558 and MEMO97/65). The Communication forms part of the Commission's Action Plan for the Single Market and the First Action Plan for Innovation in Europe.

"This coherent policy framework lays the foundations for ensuring that pan-EU patent protection can be obtained more easily and more cheaply than at present. This will serve to promote investment in innovation, which is so crucial to employment, growth and competitiveness in the EU", commented Single Market Commissioner Mario Monti. "We have made the introduction of a unitary patent valid throughout the Single Market a political priority", stressed Mr. Monti, "in accordance with the clearly expressed demands of users and of the European Parliament for adequate protection at a reasonable cost and with optimum legal certainty. Other additional measures will result in a substantial improvement in the EU's patent system to the benefit of innovative European businesses".

The priority measures outlined in the Communication, in accordance with the urgent areas identified by the consultations, are as follows:

  • a proposal for a Regulation creating a EU Patent which would be valid, with immediate effect, throughout the EU on the basis of a single application. This system would coexist with patents issued by national offices and the European Patent Office (established by the 1973 Munich Convention), thus providing innovative businesses with a choice of protective systems. The proposal, to be presented in the course of 1999, will reflect the need for a unitary Community patent, covering the entire territory of the EU which was expressed clearly during consultations on the Green Paper. The EU Patent would significantly facilitate the management of patent rights in the Single Market and make it easier to enforce these rights.

  • a proposal for a Directive to harmonise the conditions for the patentability of inventions related to computer programs will also be prepared by the Commission. The proposal, to be presented before the Summer of 1999, would harmonise national rules and practices to the extent necessary to ensure that innovative software companies can obtain effective patent protection for their inventions in all Member States. Currently, this is not possible because of divergent approaches in different Member States.

  • an interpretative Communication to be issued by the Commission to clarify how patent agents can benefit from EU Treaty rules on freedom of establishment and freedom to provide services throughout the EU.

  • a pilot action to be set up to support the efforts of national patent offices in promoting innovation. The action will form part of the Commission's 5th framework programme on research and development.

Other forthcoming initiatives outlined in the Communication include:

  • proposals to harmonise the scope of exceptions (e.g. for non-commercial use) to the rights conferred by patents in certain sectors (e.g. pharmaceuticals), after completing an in-depth analysis of the situation

  • concerning the European Patent: launching the procedure for the accession of the EU to the Munich Convention; supporting proposals for lower fees; encouraging a reduction in costs for translating European Patents; and encouraging Member States to support the revision of the Munich Convention to adapt it to technological developments (e.g. to allow computer software to be patented) and to take account of EU legislation and relevant international agreements

  • issuing a Commission Communication on how to improve dissemination of information on patent law amongst inventors, researchers and small and medium-sized companies

  • commissioning a study on employees' inventions, to determine whether clauses in employment contracts can constitute an obstacle to innovation, what appropriate standard clauses might be and to suggest suitable arbitration procedures for settling disputes. However, the Commission considers that legislation in this area should not be harmonised at EU level.

  • organising a European conference for insurers, industry organisations and patent offices on insurance for legal protection against litigation costs in connection with patents.

The full text of the Communication is available for downloading from the Europa Internet site:

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