Language row is likely to prevent EU-wide patent
The latest attempt to establish an EU-wide patent system looks increasingly likely to founder in the face of continued Spanish and Italian resistance to the scheme’s proposed language regime.
Discussions by EU ministers at an informal meeting on 29 September produced no breakthrough, and EU officials say that a subsequent concession proposed by Belgium, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU’s Council of Ministers, is unlikely to break the deadlock.
The European Commission has proposed that patent applications should be filed in three languages – English, French and German.
Italy and Spain believe this would put their companies at a disadvantage against French and German competitors. However, a Spanish counter-proposal, to introduce an English-only regime, won little support at the meeting, leaving hopes for a deal resting on Belgium’s ability to find a compromise acceptable to Italy and Spain.
Vincent Van Quickenborne, Belgium’s competitiveness minister, offered on Monday (4 October) to increase the financial support available for translating patent applications into the three main languages. However, officials are doubtful that the sums mentioned will be enough to sway Rome and Madrid.
Ministers are due to discuss the patent dossier again on Wednesday (11 October) and on 25 November. However, the 29 September meeting, which was preceded by a range of lower-level meetings and bilateral discussions, was seen as potentially the crucial moment in the debate.
After the meeting, Max Stadler, Germany’s state secretary for justice, made clear for the first time that, if the Belgian presidency’s latest initiative fails, Berlin will try to forge a coalition of countries willing to establish a common patent regime. To do so, it would invoke the ‘enhanced co-operation’ mechanism.
The Commission’s legal services have already concluded that use of the mechanism would not undermine the single market. Before enhanced co-operation could be used, at least nine member states would need to declare their intention to join the mechanism and their proposal would then need to secure a weighted majority of votes in the Council of Ministers.
Belgium has made approval of an EU-wide patent one of the key goals of its presidency and Van Quickenborne said on 29 September that he remained “determined to reach a consensus on the issue by the end of the Belgian presidency”.
He described the existing system as “much too complex and expensive” and said that the EU’s “knowledge-intensive businesses” were “dying for a feasible patent system”.
A note sent by the Belgian presidency to member states this week said that the creation of an EU patent and a unified patent litigation system was “an essential measure to reinforce innovation, to complete the internal market and to strengthen European competitiveness”.
Improving the EU’s competitiveness is one of the core aims of the Europe 2020 strategy for boosting growth and jobs agreed by EU leaders in March.