EU fails to end language war over single patent
(BRUSSELS) - The European Union has failed to end a language battle that has delayed the launch of a Europe-wide patent aimed at making it cheaper and easier for inventors to protect their work.
The single pan-European patent was first proposed by the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, in 2000 as a way to centralise the process and reduce translation costs.
Italy and Spain on Wednesday again blocked the plan as they objected to a proposal to make English, French and German the three official languages for a single European patent, which would cover the 27-nation EU.
European industry ministers were striving to finally end the deadlock at a special meeting in Brussels, but a diplomatic source said Italy and Spain remained stubbornly against. Unanimity is required for this sensitive matter.
The discussions "show once again, unfortunately, that a compromise at 27 seems impossible to reach," European internal market commissioner Michel Barnier said.
"I would like to underline that the failure of these discussions has serious consequences," the Frenchman, who was originally behind the move, said.
"The absence of a European patent hinders our competitiveness, hinders European innovation, research and development. In the midst of the economic crisis, it is not the right signal."
Under the current system inventors must acquire patents in individual countries, a process that can cost up to 20,000 euros (28,000 dollars), including 14,000 euros in translation fees.
This compares to 1,850 dollars which investors spend to protect their work in the United States.
EU states reached an agreement in principle in December but without resolving the row over the languages into which patents should be translated.
The commission proposed in July a patent regime in three languages -- English, French and German -- which would reduce translation costs to 680 euros.
A patent would be registered in one of the languages and partially registered in the two others.
Most EU states support the idea except for Spain and Italy, which want their languages to be recognised.
Belgium, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, has offered a compromise in which a patent would be translated in one EU language for a transitional period. Such a deal would cost 1,700 euros more than the commission's proposal.
Some countries are willing to band together under a rarely used "enhanced cooperation" system which allows a group of nations to implement a new policy without the agreement of the entire EU, diplomats said.
Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden are among the countries ready to take that route. Enhanced cooperation requires the participation of at least nine countries.
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