EU Patent System Gets Go-Ahead

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European Union ministers on Monday endorsed plans for a new EU-wide patent system that would halve the cost of registering new inventions as part of moves to boost competitiveness and spur growth.

Ending a 30-year stalemate to get the new system approved, the ministers struck a deal after agreeing they would set up a centralized court for patent decisions by 2010.

Germany, which wanted a greater role for national EU courts, withdrew its objections and backed a planned Community Patent Court after it was granted up until the end of the decade to adapt to the system.

"We have a common approach," Hansjoerg Geiger, German secretary of state for the justice ministry, told reporters at a meeting of EU industry and research ministers.

The EU sees a single system for approving patents as part of efforts to make the 15-nation bloc the world's most competitive economy by 2010. Industry also wanted simpler procedures.

The issue of the common court was the final point to be resolved. EU member states had also argued over which language should be used for a patent.

The ministers struck a broad agreement, but technical details still have to be worked out before formal adoption of the law expected later this year.

The commission says a system of EU patents will halve the cost of getting patent rights for inventions in the bloc to 25,000 euros ($27,040). Although this would still be more than twice the cost of a patent in the United States, the EU sees the planned move as a positive step.

"The single patent is an essential element of competitiveness," said Noelle Lenoir, French EU affairs minister. Technology advocates have long called for a revision of the EU patenting system, saying the current, relatively cumbersome procedure creates a competitive disadvantage for EU firms, particularly for young technology companies.

"Anything that streamlines the patent process is good for innovation. And anything that speeds up innovation is good for the technology sector," said Chris Lewis, a technology analyst with Yankee Group.