The European Union convened a meeting yesterday of its Competitiveness Council in yet another attempt to achieve harmonization for European patents. Belgium, currently holding the rotating EU presidency, called the meeting to discuss a draft regulation aimed at establishing translation arrangements for a future EU-wide patent system.
The draft regulation was put forward in July in an attempt to address the language and translation issue, one of the main problems that has long burdened European patent applicants with high costs and complexity that arise from the current fragmented system. The draft regulation aimed to have patent procedures conducted in one of three languages (French, German, and English) – which would considerably reduce the high costs of obtaining patent protection in Europe, but exclude all other languages among the EU member countries. As noted in the proposal for the draft regulation, substantially lower processing fees for a patent covering all EU member states would improve accessibility to patent protection, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises and public research organizations.
The Belgian presidency had put forth a compromise proposal in advance of the Competitiveness Council meeting (see here and here) in an attempt to resolve the long-standing language and translation issue. One such compromise offered firms the opportunity to have translation costs reimbursed where they were unable to submit requests for patent protection in one of the three languages.
However, the Council’s participants failed to agree on the compromise for the draft regulation. In post-meeting comments, Belgium’s representative and Minister for Enterprise and Streamlining Policy, Vincent Van Quickenborne, noted that talks collapsed when two countries (Spain and Italy) objected that the compromise system would give German and French competitors built-in competitive advantages. A further compromise endorsing the trilingual regime with a six-year “transitional period” was also rejected absent a provision extendig it until automatic translation devices are successfully introduced by the European Patent Office.
The Council’s press release on the outcome of the meeting can be found here. Van Quickenborne suggested that attempts to resolve the issue would be continued, noting that the EU’s Lisbon treaty “enhanced cooperation” provisions offered other possibilities for one-third or more of member states to agree on a restricted version of common patents and procedures without full approval by all. Nonetheless, no agreement was reached, and these possibilities were left for discussion on another day. The language and translation issue has proved, once again, to be too difficult to overcome.