If the single market is undoubtedly one of the EU’s greatest achievements, some barriers still remain. One of them was overcome this week when— after more than 30 years of debate — the unified EU patent system was finally adopted by the Council and the European Parliament.

Presented as a great step forward by EU institutions and the press alike, the new system is expected to cut the cost of patents by up to 80%, making them more attractive especially for SMEs. Previously, patents had to be approved by each of the 27 Member-states. This administrative burden made them 18 times more expensive than in the United States and China, where companies can fill a patent for only EUR 2000 and EUR 600, respectively. In the EU, companies have to pay EUR 36000.

MEP Raffaele Baldassarre (EPP, IT), who led discussions in the European Parliament, explained that the former system was “effectively a tax on innovation”. It indeed seems to impact considerably the number of filled patents: while the EU makes up 20% of all worldwide patent applications, China’s patent office received 526,412 applications in 2011, and the United States ranked second with 503,582 filings. The European patent office, on the other hand, received only 142,793 applications in 2011, down 5.4 percent from 2010.

Thanks to the new EU patent system, any inventor will now be able to apply to the European Patent Organisation (EPO) for an EU patent valid in the 25 EU member states who co-signed the proposal (EU-27 minus Spain and Italy). Patents will be made available and applications will have to be made in English, French and German.

Other step forwards include the full reimbursement of translation costs for EU-based SMEs, non-profit organisations, universities and public research organisations. In addition, renewal fees, which account for a large share of total patent-related costs, will now take into account the specific needs of small firms so that they can benefit from lower costs.

The European Commission expects the first European patents to be registered by 2014.

For additional details please visit the website of the European Patent Office.

CONTACT: Karen Johnstone-Hobbs, Counsellor, Science & Innovation, E-mail: karen.johnstone-hobbs@international.gc.ca; Telephone: +32 02 741 0686, Avenue de Tervuren 2, 1040 Brussels, Belgium
Mission of Canada to the European Union, Government of Canada