The European Union will take another big step forward this month in its 40-year struggle to establish a unitary European patent amid signs that Italy may make its first formal move to participate in the system.
Officials will decide tomorrow (8 February) whether an international agreement to establish the European Union’s unitary patent court can be signed by industry ministers in the margins of their Council meeting on 18-19 February.
Crucially, it looks as though Italy – which along with Spain has up to now refused to take part in the patent regime – will sign the agreement. This would not mean that Italy would automatically become part of the unitary patent system, which is expected to come into force next year, but it would enable Mario Monti, the prime minister, to send out a signal before the elections in Italy that take place on 24-25 February.
Member state diplomats say that there are still some outstanding technical issues to resolve before the agreement can be signed. However, a spokesperson for the Irish government, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers and is co-ordinating the signing of the international agreement, said there were “no major obstacles”.
A postponement from the competitiveness council would mean the signing would have to take place at a future ministerial meeting, by which time Italy’s political landscape may have changed.
The agreement setting up the court – which will deal with infringement and validity claims – comes on top of two regulations creating the patent and establishing the language regime that were approved by 25 member states in December. The signing by ministers will kick-start a ratification process in member states and allow preparatory work setting up the court to begin.
For unitary patents to be issued in early 2014, as planned, at least 13 member states, including France, Germany and the UK, have to ratify the court system by November.
A “very long saga” was coming to an end, said Malcolm Harbour, a British MEP who chairs the European Parliament’s internal market and consumer-protection committee, which led in scrutiny of the draft legislation. He welcomed Italy’s softening stance.
“Mario Monti was very clear about the importance of a unitary patent when he wrote his report [for the European Commission on the re-launch of the single market in 2010],” Harbour said. “Italy in particular has a long history of interest in innovation and inventions,” he added. “I don’t think Spain or Italy can afford to go it alone.”
It was while Silvio Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister that the country refused to participate in the patent regime, on the grounds that it discriminated against the Italian language.
Italy and Spain also complained to the European Court of Justice that the other 25 EU member states should not introduce the regime without them. An advocate-general of the ECJ has recommended that its judges should reject that view.
The language issue became a stumbling block because patent applications must be filed in English, French or German, or filed in a different language and then translated into one of the three official languages.
Small and medium-sized businesses have been at the forefront of pressing EU member states to agree on a patent system. Fernando Guerrero, the Spanish chief executive of SolidQ, a consulting and mentoring company, said that a unitary patent would drastically reduce the cost of defending patents. “It is very disappointing that Spain won’t take part,” he said. “I can understand that it wants to protect its language, but it shouldn’t be doing it this way.”
The question of the location of the court, which will rule on allegations of patent infringements and decide on damages, held up a deal on the regime in the last months of 2012 when France, Germany and the UK argued about whether it should be in Paris, Munich or London.
A compromise was agreed, under which the court’s central division will be in Paris, Munich will look at issues of mechanical engineering, and London will be responsible for patents concerned with chemistry and pharmaceuticals.
Click Here: cheap all stars rugby jersey