2 March 2011 by Pelle Neroth
However, patenting and litigating against infringements in Europe has until now been extremely expensive: different language regimes, different court systems. Again, it's something regarded as having held Europe back compared to the States.
Something called the community patent - with EU wide effect, and written in French, English or German -- should have broken the impasse when voted through by the European parliament on 15 February.
About time, say its fans: a community patent has been discussed for decades. It could cut costs by 90%, to 10,000 euros, compared to the costs of patenting in each individual member state. More importantly, because suing against infringements is the expensive and complicated bit, the single European patent court would bring into being a common jurisdiction covering the whole of Europe.
You don't have to sue locally when some pirate in a dodgy legal system like Bulgaria or Romania infringes your patent. You do it in one place, from wherever the new EU patent court is based, and so that's much cheaper.
However, no sooner has it got off the ground than European Court of Justice intervened; and on 8 March it is going to rule on two arguments. One is that a patent courts may be un-European, may operate and effectively legislate outside the established European body of laws, for instance in bioethics.
Second, the ECJ may rule that imposing French, German and English on other countries contravenes their absolute EU linguistic rights for companies to be heard in their own language on issues relating to their own territory. The Italians and Spanish have been particularly vexed about their languages not being official, and are said to be feeling particularly prejudiced against.
Not to go into too much detail, the two rulings, expected on March 8, could lead to several outcomes. The least likely, according to informed opinion as that the ECJ will greenlight the deal; another outcome will put the ball back in the commission and the European Parliament's court.
That could pave the way for Spanish and Italian MEPs to build political momentum for an English language only regime: it's cheaper than adding their languages to the list of the requirements, yet it would deny French and German companies a competitive advantage of having their language used in patent courts. It would have the advantage of moderating some concerns about fairness, since English is after all the lingua franca.
For the Brits, this is not such a bad prospect. Having English only is their best outcome - even better, they would not have been seen to be pressing for it.
If the rulings go another way, however, and this is more likely, again not to go into too much detail, a 21 language solution may be the only way forward. That would be disastrously expensive, there would be no political will to pass it, and the community patent dream would be effectively dead. Don't these European judges realise that going down this route is putting Europe's science future at stake?
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Edited: 06 March 2011 at 04:57 AM by Pelle Neroth
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 02 March 2011 01:13 AM Patent
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