Reforming Europe's cumbersome and expensive patent system is now officially shifting to the back-burner. On 4 December, the Competitiveness Council "invited" the European Commission to present, as soon as possible, its communication on patents based on "ongoing consultations". However, the member states' continuing inability to agree on proposals, principally to achieve the objectives of reducing translation and litigation costs, effectively casts doubt on patent reform, at least during the German EU Presidency.

"I have a real sense of deja vu. We have been talking about this great objective for twenty years. We will try to move forward under the German Presidency, if at all possible," Commissioner Charlie McCreevy told ministers. "Many member states have come up with their own ideas on how best to proceed. It is clear that more time is needed to tease out our options," said McCreevy.


France has come in for most criticism for the breakdown. Patents are, though, a "priority" for all, according to Industry Minister Francois Loos. "The Community framework offers the best legal framework," Loos told his colleagues at the Competition Council on 4 December. For Loos, the European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA) raises too many issues and will not gain enough support. "Our proposal gives Community jurisdiction to disputes relating to European patents."

Loos admits that disagreements between member states should not lead to deadlock. France, together with a hardcore' group including Italy, Spain, and Luxembourg, opposes EPLA and radical reduction in translation requirements. Nonetheless, almost 90% of all patent cases concerning European patents are litigated before French, German, Dutch and UK courts.

An opposing group is formed by those EU member states having so far ratified the London Protocol on reducing translation costs, together with non-EU states Liechtenstein, Monaco and Switzerland. These states are Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom. France, which has signed but not ratified the protocol, is holding up the entry into force of the protocol. Most new member states, such as the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, and now Romania, with the notable exception of Cyprus, appear favourable to the London Protocol and EPLA. The entry into force of the London Protocol would bring translation savings for an average European patent of 31% to 46%, according...

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