Scepticism over European patent deal

The agreement concludes decades of wrangling and offers an alternative to a fragmented system of protecting ideas across the European Union, reports The Telegraph.

Instead of applying for a patent in 27 member states, European businesses will be able to apply in one place.

The European Patent Office (EPO) estimates that a single patent, which could arrive in 2014, would cut registration costs by more than two-thirds, as inventors avoid the need to register and defend their ideas in numerous countries and languages. However, Italy and Spain are yet to back the deal.

Last Friday’s agreement had been held up by disputes over where the court that will adjudicate in patent disputes should be hosted. The court will be split between Munich, Paris and London, depending on the type of patent, with its headquarters in the French capital.

However, Tim Roberts, a former president of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, warned it was “very doubtful” that a unitary patent would make it cheaper for inventors to protect their ideas, since most only pick a handful of key markets anyway. He said it “might” make it easier for them to enforce their patents.

“The one key advantage is that this provides a new means of enforcing intellectual property – that might prove cheaper than existing arrangements. But there’s a long well to go. We shall have to see how it plays out – there’s still a lot that can go wrong.”

He also warned that high renewal fees that come with the single patent which would be an issue for some small companies.

Dr Nicholas Jones, a patent attorney at law firm Withers & Rogers, said the decision to “fracture the court system” rather than have it in one location “appears to be driven by politics rather than practicalities. It could lead to inconsistencies as the courts in London, Paris and Munich may not interpret European patent law in exactly the same way”.

John Mitchell, chairman of the SME Innovation Alliance, an inventors’ body, expressed scepticism over whether a central court will improve access to enforcement.

“Delays measured in years look to be the inevitable result and high costs are not covered,” he said, suggesting that small firms will struggle to afford the cost of defending their ideas against infringers.

SMEIA member Michael Wilcox burned his patent for a colour printing technology outside parliament in March in protest at infringements by larger companies.
“The system does not work for SMEs, lone inventors or anyone else who does not have massive resources to engage in incredibly expensive and mind numbing patent litigation,” Mr Mitchell said.

Mr Roberts said there had been “vague promises” made that small companies will get “beneficial terms” at the new court to improve access “but we don’t know how it will work out”.