Feature - An instrument to improve competitiveness
17.12.2012, 14:02 (CET)
An Odyssey that had been going on for almost 40 years, came to a happy end for the European Union last week. The European Parliament (EP) endorsed the agreement on the unitary patent protection package, which was reached in the Committee of Permanent Representatives on November 19 and was supported politically from the Competitiveness Council on December 9.

The President of the European Council, Mr. Herman Van Rompuy, welcomed the contribution of the Cyprus Presidency on the agreement, after the Conclusion of December’s Summit. " It is the happy end to a 40 year-long Odyssey,” Mr. Van Rompuy said “Even if we do not know for sure on which Mediterranean island the historic Odysseus lived, for Europe, in the patent case, our beloved ‘Ithaca’ clearly is Cyprus!" he added.

Cyprus’ Justice and Public Order Minister, Mr. Loucas Louca, speaking on behalf of the Cyprus Presidency during last week’s EP Plenary session, also described the agreement as “historic”. “Even back in the 1970s, it was widely recognised that such a system would give a significant boost to the competitiveness of our innovative industry by creating a single market for inventions”, Mr. Louca stated.

Obstacles and opportunities

So what was holding back the completion of the agreement all these years? “Member states could not agree on the language structure of the unitary patent, the actual location (seat) of the courts which would deal with cases related to such patents, and the procedural rules that such courts would use,” explains Ms. Vicky Christoforou, Counsellor for Legal Matters on Intellectual Property at the Permanent Representation of the Republic of Cyprus in the EU. Eventually, 25 Member States decided to establish an enhanced cooperation for the creation of the unitary patent. Italy and Spain have decided to opt out of the agreement.

According to Ms. Christoforou, the new system provides new opportunities to EU citizens. “The applicant will be able to protect his invention with a single application in 25 EU Member States. In addition, the applicant will be able to keep his patent active, by paying a yearly renewal fee. Finally, patent right holders will be able to resolve any disputes before the new specialised court that it is created for this purpose,” adds the Legal Counsellor.

Significant cost reduction

Under the existing regime - either via national or through the European Patent Office procedures, an applicant needs to pay separately for patent protection in each and every country he wishes to capitalise on his invention. “These amounts are not insignificant. The protection of a patent in 27 countries currently costs about 36.000 euro, where 23.000 euro is the cost of translation in the languages of the Member State where protection is requested. With the new system, protection in the 25 EU Member States will cost around 5.000 euros, while the translation into German, French and English will cost around 2.380. Finally, the new system will not require a separate national protection for the 25 Member States of the EU,” Ms. Christoforou underlines.

With this new system, the EU will now be able to compete with the USA and China, which already boast low prices for patent protection. An indicative cost of patent protection in the US is about 2.000 euros while in China around 600 euros.

European economy becomes more competitive

Political and economic officials are optimistic that the new system will result in huge costs savings, since the procedures are simplified. Furthermore, once the transitional period has expired, no translation will be required for the unitary patent into other official EU languages except English, French and German. “This will make Europe more attractive for investors and the innovation sector and will bring it to an equal stand with its competitors in Asia and America,” Ms. Christoforou estimates.

The Cyprus Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI) shares this estimation. “This decision will have a major impact on the business and scientific world in the EU. Firstly a direct consequence will be the clear and substantial cost reduction in patent validation. It is also expected that the number of patentability rights will be significantly increased, considering the fact that an automatic patentability is achieved through this unified process across the 25 Member States which voted in favour of the package. Additionally, the package will significantly help to close the gap between Europe and its international competitors (USA, Japan,)” commented the Deputy Secretary General of CCCI, Mr. Marios Tsiakkis.

The completion of the package requires the creation of a special court. The agreement on the Unified Patent Court, under which this Court is to be established, is expected to be signed in early 2013 under the Irish Presidency. In order for it to be entered into force, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and ten other EU Member States will have to ratify the agreement. Simultaneously, the Rules of the Procedure will also need to be finalised.

Counsellor for Legal Matters on Intellectual Property
Vicky Christoforou

Cyprus Permanent Representation of the EU
Intellectual Property
Telephone: +32 27404031