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European innovation needs a Community patent, says UNICE

European businesses are not taking advantage of their research efforts because the existing patent procedures take too long and are too expensive, says UNICE, the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe.

The need to establish a Community patent is now urge...
European businesses are not taking advantage of their research efforts because the existing patent procedures take too long and are too expensive, says UNICE, the Union of Industrial and Employers' Confederations of Europe.

The need to establish a Community patent is now urgent and requires political support at the highest level, said UNICE Secretary-General Dirk Hudig as he presented UNICE's new compendium on Intellectual Property Rights at a press briefing on 14 February.

The publication sets out UNICE's position on the strategic importance of intellectual property rights, which they hope will influence ministers at the Lisbon Summit on 23 and 24 March in Portugal.

'We hope this document will help Europe build up a framework for protection afforded by intellectual property rights that meets users' expectations and needs,' said Mr Hudig.

European patents are five times as expensive as their American counterparts, which also offer discounts to small and medium sized enterprises, and the time to obtain them is a quarter as long. European companies are simply not applying for protection of their products, says Mr Hudig, with the result that we are loosing out competitively.

'It's not a technology issue any more, it's a competitive issue,' he said. 'We need to encourage a risk taking culture in Europe, and for this companies need to be able to realise the benefits of being innovative more readily.'

UNICE also hopes to bring the matter to the attention of Europe's Chief Executive Officers, whose counterparts in the USA are active at promoting the benefits of the patent system. 'In Europe it's seen as too complicated and technical an issue, and CEOs leave it well alone. In America they stand up and argue for it.'

However to make the system competitive, UNICE want a Community patent with only one working language, translatable in cases of dispute, which will probably be one of the most difficult elements to resolve.

An attendee at the presentation of UNICE's compendium said: 'It will be interesting to see what happens in Lisbon, because UNICE is very influential in this field.'

The current European patent system established a common patent procedure that covers up to 19 European countries. More than 900,000 European patents have been filed since the system was established in 1977.

However, unlike the proposed Community patent, the European patent is not unitary. After it has been granted by the European Patent Organisation in Munich, the patent is divided into several national patents that cover only the countries designated by the applicant. Governed by national laws, at present there is no common European authority ensuring a harmonised interpretation.

The proposed Community patent would be granted in a similar manner to the European patent, but after being issued it would be applicable in respect of the whole Community, and would be governed by a single authority.

The need for reform was highlighted during consultations for the Green Paper on the patent system in Europe, published in 1997. It has become a key issue for Europe's research community.

The Internal Market Directorate-General of the European Commission outlined the action to be taken in a Communication to the Council, European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee issued in February 1999.

These measures will include a proposal for a Regulation to establish a unitary EU patent valid throughout the EU, a proposal for a Directive on patent protection of inventions related to computer programmes, an interpretative Communication on freedom of establishment and freedom to provide services for patent agents and a pilot action to support efforts by national patent offices to promote innovation.

The proposal forms part of the Commission's Action Plan for the Single Market and the First Action Plan for Innovation in Europe.

The Commission intends to bring forward a proposal for a Community patent before June 2000.

Recently Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin expressed support for the principle of establishing a Community patent, as part of his initiative for a common European research area.
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