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Commission adopts Green Paper on European patents

The European Commission has adopted a Green Paper on the European patent system, which aims to determine if the European patent system should be improved and modernized.

The Green Paper is designed to provide a basis for consultation with all interested parties, in order to d...
The European Commission has adopted a Green Paper on the European patent system, which aims to determine if the European patent system should be improved and modernized.

The Green Paper is designed to provide a basis for consultation with all interested parties, in order to determine whether users' needs are currently being met and whether new measures should be taken at Community level. In particular, it asks whether the Community Patent Convention, which dates from 1975, should be replaced by full scale Community legislation which would ensure that businesses and innovators could secure patent protection throughout the Single Market on the basis of a single patent application.

The Green Paper on European patents follows from the debate on innovation instigated by the Green Paper on Innovation, published in December 1995. During this debate it was clear that the patent system plays a major part in the protection of innovation and the dissemination of technical information. In this context, according to Mrs Edith Cresson, Commissioner responsible for research, the Green Paper on patents should ask, "How can we improve the protection of innovation in the EU, so as to encourage initiative and overcome one of Europe's great handicaps, its difficulty in converting its own scientific and technological breakthroughs into new goods and services?"

The existing patent system in Europe is complex, with national patents standing alongside the embryonic European patent, although once granted this operates effectively as a national patent. Consequently, protecting inventions throughout the Single Market is a costly and complicated business, needing individual applications, in different languages, under different legal jurisdictions. Since there is no European court competent to rule on patent questions at European level, patent holders may be uncertain of their legal rights in some cases.

As well as asking whether and to what extent interested parties would be prepared to make use of a Community patent system, established by Regulation, the Green Paper addresses a number of other questions relating to patents in Europe. These include the possible need for harmonization of Member States patent laws, and the impact of the Information Society and electronic commerce on software-related inventions. Questions such as employees' inventions, the use of patent agents and the recognition of professional qualifications are also covered in the Green Paper.

Finally, the Green Paper addresses the question of the system of fees and charges for patents. In particular, it asks how this can be adapted in a way which corresponds to the service performed, and does not form an obstacle to the protection of innovation.

The consultation process is to end in November 1997, when a hearing with interested parties will be organized by the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council. Following this, the Commission will be able to determine its legislative agenda.

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