26 November 2010

The Next Attempt Towards a Cheaper EU Patent - This Time Without Spain and Italy (Updated)

Optimistic German State Secretary Peter Hintze
As reported earlier on this blog, the latest (and final) attempt to reach unanimity among the 27 EU member states with regard to a common EU patent failed because of diverting attitudes among the member states towards the language regime. The disappointing result of the extraordinary Competitiveness Council of 10 November 2010, in which the Belgian Presidency placed a final compromise text (documents 5395/10 and 15395/10 ADD1) on the table, have been summarised in a press conference by Mr Vincent Van Quickenborne: "things are clear now: there will never be unanimity on an EU patent". He said that one of the 27 delegations "apparently did not have a mandate to negotiate", so that "other avenues in the [Lisbon] treaty will now have to be considered, i.e. an enhanced co-operation between a smaller group of willing EU members.

Yesterday, German daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published an article (automatic English translation), according to which "a low-cost EU patent is within reach", because Germany and numerous other countries are now pressing forward without the "brakemen" Italy, Spain and Poland.

According to that article, German State Secretary Peter Hintze said after Tuesday's Competition Council meeting that up to 20 EU member states had agreed on an enhanced co-operation, based on the approach that EU patent applications are filed and granted in one of the three official EPO languages (English, French, German), whereas - apart from a mandatory "courtesy translation" in English - other translations would not any more be required. While Germany is said to soon submit a formal request to start the enhanced co-operation procedure, Italy finds itself taken by surprise by that initiative. An Italian representative therefore threatened to put the language issue on the agenda of the EU summit in December, whereas, however, other delegations did not appear to be overly frightened of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi banging on Brussel's table.

Further, Mr Hintze is reported to be optimistic that the EU patent can become reality already in the first half of 2011, which is, even for a politician, indeed optimistic.

Update: Some more information on this issue just came in from EurActiv:
Italy found itself in a political squeeze on Thursday (25 November) as several key European countries moved to create a unified patent to protect the design of products sold across their borders. [...] Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Estonia said they will formally ask the European Commission to help them write a common patent agreement based on "enhanced cooperation" between those countries. [...] Frenchman Michel Barnier, the EU's commissioner for the internal market and services, [...] said he would act rapidly on the request for enhanced cooperation on a new patent, and present a proposal to the Competitiveness Council at its meeting on 10 December.
And with respect to Italy's (and other's) role in that epic debate: 
It was a bold and rarely used tactic to pressure Italy to drop its demand that Italian be one of the official languages of an EU patent [...], however, Italy appears ready to fight any proposal about enhanced competition on patents. "This is not possible," said Giuseppe Pizza, Italian secretary of state, claiming such action would undermine the internal market of the EU.

Surprisingly, Spain is no longer insisting that Spanish also be an official patent language, while Poland took Italy's side and requested another round of negotiations.

France, the Czech Republic and Malta all said they were prepared to explore and analyse a Commission plan for enhanced cooperation on a patent.