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European Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services
Single European Patent: a major achievement but still some way to go
Conference on the European Unitary Patent/Brussels
18 February 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for having taken part in today's discussions.
By holding this conference – in close collaboration with the Irish Presidency (and I take this opportunity to thank them) – we have underlined the importance of the reform that we are in the process of implementing; this on the eve of the signature of the agreement on the unified patent court.
After almost 40 years of discussions, we are finally set to provide Europe with a unitary patent for the 25 participating Member States.
In order to develop their strategies, innovative companies will finally have at their disposal this new instrument issued by the European Patent Office (EPO). It will be based on a single application for registration, entail minimal translation requirements and cost much less.
Costs will be reduced by over 80%! In the history of European integration there have not been many steps forward of such significance, in such an important area.
This will be a major boost to competitiveness.
Of course, companies may still raise questions over some of the practical aspects. These questions have formed part of your discussions. Clearly the system will need to be run in. But the main aims have been fulfilled. This is a considerable achievement.
You have also discussed today the new specialised, unified patent court, which will be put in place as quickly as possible and will issue judgments of the highest quality.
In this area, too, there has been major change. Companies will gain legal certainty. In the event of a dispute, they will no longer have to launch actions before a number of courts in different countries.
This achievement demonstrates our ability to further the development of Europe, as a powerful driving force for European companies and their competitiveness.
The world is changing faster than ever before and innovation will be the main factor of Europe's success vis-à-vis our new competitors, namely China, India and Brazil.
However, this is no time for us to become self-satisfied or rest on our laurels. We will be able to celebrate only when the first single European Patent has been issued.
In my first hearing before the European Parliament, three years ago, I stated that I wanted to be the last Commissioner to deal with the question of patents.
This was not out of personal ambition but rather so that European companies – and in particular SMEs – could obtain protection for their inventions at an affordable price.
This achievement is within our grasp but there is still some way to go if we are to fully achieve our goal.
This is why we wanted today's conference to focus primarily on the challenges that we face.
What are those challenges? You analysed them this afternoon. I will recall four of them.
1. Firstly, the agreement on the unified court must, of course, be signed by the Member States. We are expecting it to be signed by 24 Member States in the margins of tomorrow's Council meeting on competitiveness.
Bulgaria will sign it once their internal administrative procedures have been completed. And I hope that Poland, which has decided not to sign the agreement for the time being, will do so as soon as possible.
2. Then the agreement will need to be ratified, which will involve explaining the new system to the national parliaments.
It is important not to let the discussion be dominated by vested interests and the fear of things new.
We must keep in mind the importance of innovation as a driver of economic growth and employment. We all have a role to play in this, not least the Members of the European Parliament.
3. Thirdly, it is up to us to ensure that the new patent system works in practice. The EPO's select committee must put in place a legal framework suited to the application of the rules on the single patent, including the matter of annual fees. This is one of the keys to the success of the single patent, as Ms Froehlinger very clearly explained.
4. Lastly, we must ensure that the court is fully operational. To this end, other prerequisites must be met, including the adoption of rules of procedure and rules on court costs, and the recruitment and training of judges.
We must face facts: making all this come true in a very short 'time frame' will not be easy and will require a lot of work. It can only be achieved through the strong commitment of everyone and thorough preparation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I will conclude by thanking you once again for your efforts in supporting our initiative.
Please do not lose momentum. We are close to achieving our goal but we are not there yet. The long road to the single patent does not end with the December agreement or even with tomorrow's signing. Your support remains essential to the success of our enterprise.
If we want European companies to take the investment decisions today that will create the innovation of tomorrow, we must have the courage of our convictions. We do not have a moment to lose.
Thank you for your attention.