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Resource Centre

eu patent

Timeline

Over 50 years in the making – Recent developments

 

27 June 2011 Extraordinary Council meeting. Agreement was reached on “general approaches” (a general approach is an agreement on the essential elements of a legal act, pending opinion of the European Parliament) “on two draft regulations implementing enhanced cooperation in the area of unitary patent protection” (Press release, 11831/11).

 

Hungary Minister of State stated “This is the final, critical contribution of the Hungarian Presidency to achieving a simpler, cheaper and more robust patent system in the EU that eluded us for decades. The new system shall help European Company attract investment into their innovative activities by dramatically shortening and simplifying the procedure of obtaining patent protection. Building on the achievements of the Beglian Presidency and the Commission, we went further than expected in a mere six months- from agreement on enhanced cooperation to closing the first step in the legislative procedure” eu2011.hu

 

30 May 2011– Italy lodges an appeal with the Court of Justice of the European Union against the use of “Enhanced cooperation”. The statement reads ” Italy also opposes the creation on a negative precedent in the European integration process (…) enhanced cooperation on the issue of patents runs counter to the spirit of the single market, because it is liable to create divisions and distortions within this market, to the detriment of our enterprises” esteri.it/MAE/EN

 

30 May 2011– First debate on the Commission’s proposal, the two subjects: Creation of a unitary patent protection and the applicable translation regime and of a unified patent litigation system were taken separately in the Council.

 

As a result of the debate a “political orientation” was agreed upon “for the implementation of enhanced cooperation among 25 member states”. (Press Release, 3094th Council meeting, Competitiveness (Internal Market, Industry, Research and Space), Brussels, 30 and 31 May 2011).

 

 13 April 2011 – A proposal for a regulation of the European parliament and of the Council implementing enhanced cooperation in the creation of unitary patent protection was made by the twenty-five member states.
At the same time a proposal was also made for a Council regulation implementing enhanced cooperation in the area of creation of unitary patent protection with regards to applicable translation arrangements.
This proposed that translations for the new unitary patent be in line with the current Convention, and that no additional translations be required, except in the case of a dispute.
It foresaw a twelve year transitional period, after which time it was expected that machine translations would be of a high enough quality to remove the requirements altogether.

 

10 March 2011– The Council issued a decision allowing enhanced cooperation in the area of the creation of unitary patent protection.

 

Meanwhile an additional thirteen more states formally indicated that they wished to be a part of the enhanced cooperation.

 

The twenty-five member states were: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, Latvia, Hungary, Malta, Austria, Portugal, Romania and Slovakia.

 

14 December 2010– A proposal for a Council decision authorising enhanced cooperation between the twelve interested Member states was made.

 

14 October 2010– Despite efforts made by the Commission and the Presidency, the various working parties and many Member states, unanimity could not be reached.

 

During the Council meeting of 11 October 2010 several Member states indicated that they would attempt to establish a unitary patent system using enhanced cooperation if no other agreement was made before the end of 2010.

 

Enhanced Cooperation allowed Member states which wished to establish enhanced cooperation between themselves to do so. It was only allowed as a last resort, when it had already been established that the objectives of such cooperation could not be achieved within a reasonable time by the Union as a whole.

 

At least nine Member States had to agree to participate in order for it to be considered.

 

Also, although all members of the Council were allowed to participate in its deliberations, only members of the Council representing the participating Member States were allowed to vote.

 

As any agreement reached under enhanced cooperation would only apply to the participating Member states, this would not allow for a truly unitary patent throughout the Community, but was seen as the only way forward by some delegations.

 

Twelve Member states made formal requests; Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

 

30 June 2010– A proposal for a Council Regulation on the translation arrangements for the European Union patent was made.

 

This proposal was accompanied by an impact assessment that compared the economic effects of four alternative translation requirement options, ranging from English only, to claims translated into all Community languages.

 

As technology had advanced considerably since the initial attempts were made to resolve the lack of agreement regarding translation provisions and legal effect, high quality machine translations were tabled as a possible compromise, and the previously implemented London Agreement highlighted as an example that progress was possible regarding the reduction of translation costs.

 

However, no new options or amendments to the previous proposal were made, and it was not clear why this proposal could expect to succeed any more than the previously submitted proposals.

 

As was almost expected the proposal did not obtain the required unanimous support of the European Union Council of Ministers.

 

23 April 2009– The Commission issued a recommendation to the Council that it be authorised to open negotiations for the adoption of an agreement creating a unified patent litigation system.
 

 

 

 

 

3 April 2007 – An attempt to revitalise the debate on the Community patent was made by the Commission, which issued a communication entitled Enhancing the patent system inEurope.
 

 

The Commission recognised that the main difficulties in reaching a consensus related to language requirements and jurisdictional issues, and stated its intent to overcome these difficulties.
 

 

8 March 2004 – The presidency of the Council of the European Union issued a note in preparation for a meeting of the Council on 11 March 2004.
 

 

Further suggestions on the legal effect of filed translations and corrections to translations were made in order to end the stalemate.
 

 

Despite these revisions consensus would not be achieved between the member states, and negotiations stalled.
 

 

23 December 2003 – A proposal for a Council Decision conferring jurisdiction on the Court of Justice in disputes relating to the Community patent was presented by the Commission.  This was seen as a key element of the Community patent system, and sought to provide a uniform application of Community patent law, which was seen as central to the effectiveness of the new patent.
 

 

13 November 2003 – The presidency of the Council of the European Union issued a note in preparation for a meeting of the Council on 26 and 27 November 2003.
 

 

This note highlighted the fact that there was not a consensus amongst all delegations regarding translation requirements, both for the timing of filing claims translations and the legal effect of filing corrections of claims translations.
 

 

4 September 2003 – Following meetings held on 1, 10, 22 and 23 July 2003, a revised proposal was issued, with relatively minor amendments.
 

 

23 June 2003 – Following meetings held on 17 and 18 June 2003, a revised proposal was issued, with relatively minor amendments.
 

 

11 June 2003 – Following meetings held on 7, 8 and 21 May 2003, a revised proposal was produced.
 

 

These revisions sought to extend the role of the national offices role in the Community patent prosecution and also sought to more fairly distribute renewal fees amongst the member states.
 

 

However, the lack of a common language throughout the Community again led to issues requiring revisions, not only for the filing of translated claims, but also jurisdictionally regarding the language of hearings and proceedings of theCommunity Patent Court.
 

 

16 April 2003 – Building on the two working papers and subsequent consultation, the Commission issued a Proposal for a Council Regulation on the Community patent.
 

 

In relation to the previous concerns raised regarding translation requirements, the proposal provided that the patent claims must be translated into all the official languages of the Community, unless a Member state agreed to dispense with that requirement.  It also provided for optional translations of the full patent to be provided.
 

 

Previous discussions and disagreements over the translation requirements that had not been resolved, and other jurisdictional issues would mean that this proposal would be revised several times during the following months.
 

 

 

 

30 August 2002 – The Commission produced a working document on the planned Community patent jurisdiction.  This focused on the jurisdictional and enforcement issues involved in the new Community patent, such as the creation of a centralisedCommunity Patent Court.
 

 

7 May 2001 – Following on from the recommendations of the Economic and Social Committee, the Commission produced a Working Paper – A community policy for the realisation of the Community patent in the context of a revision of the European Patent Convention.
 

 

This was a non-paper, that focused on six areas:  Language arrangements, financial arrangements, the role of national offices, consistent development of the ‘acquis communautaire’ (the existing body of European law) and of the Convention, compliance with the ‘acquis communautaire’ judicial control and the role of the Community in the European Patent Organisation.
 
 
29 March 2001 – The Economic and Social Committee provided its opinion on the proposal.
 

 

There was broad support for the proposal, but several recommendations were made, many of which related to translation provisions.
 

 

The committee suggested that any patentee should be able to present their patent in their own language, and that a translation into one of the three ‘working’ languages be made without additional cost to the patentee.
 

 

The commission pointed out possible failings in the proposal’s regulations regarding the presumed innocence of suspected infringers in Member states that where the patent was not published in a local language.  Such as that the proposed system would not assist unknowing infringers in recovering any investments made prior to receiving a translation, which would be lost, and may far exceed the level of damages.
 

 

Also there were concerns that the application of the defence of ‘unknowing infringement’ may have led to wilful neglect, which was counter to the usual presumption that ignorance was not an excuse.
 

 

The committee suggested amending the ‘unknowing infringement’ defence with a reasonableness test, but also noted the legal enforcement of the new act would be complex.
 

 

Further recommendations were made regarding the legal enforcement of the proposed patent and concerns raised about the accessibility of enforcement to SME’s and individuals.
 

 

5 July 2000 – The Commission issued their proposal, based on the previous green paper and consultations.
 

 

The main aim of the proposal was to provide a method of providing Community wide patent protection at a reduced cost.  Comparisons with the costs for obtaining patent protection in theUnited StatesandJapanillustrated the considerable costs, that were believed to be a significant barrier to development and innovation within the Community.
 

 

The bulk of the costs in obtaining Community wide coverage related to translation and renewal costs.
 

 

While the Member states had already agreed that the renewal fees for the new Community patent would be greatly reduced over the current divided system, the translation requirements were still a bone of contention.
 

 

The proposal provided that the new patent be granted and published in one of the three working languages of the Office (French, German or English), and that the claims of the patent then be translated into the other two languages.  No other translations would be required, unless an enforcement action was raised by the patentee, when a translation into the language of the domicile Member state of the suspected infringer would be required.  Moreover it proposed that any suspected infringer, who had been unable to consult the text of the patent in the language of the Member state in which they were domiciled, would be presumed not to have knowingly infringed the patent until proven otherwise.  Also, in such a case, no damages would be provided to the proprietor for the period before a translation was provided.
 

 

Further provisions were made for a centralised judicial system, and that the new system should co-exist with current national and European patent systems.
 

 

12 February 1999 – The Commission issued a follow up on the Green Paper of 1997, outlining actions and recommendations.  Specifically the new system must:
 

 

Be unitary – having the same impact through the Community.
 

 

Be affordable – costing not more than the equivalent patent covering a limited number of states. 
 

 

Guarantee legal certainty – reducing the number of national courts able to deal with Community patent issues and provide for provisional injunctions across the Community at a reasonable cost.
 

 

Again, issues surrounding translation requirements featured prominently in the paper.  The proposed solution was to file a translation of the patent abstract and claims into all patent languages, with a full translation of the patent specification being required before any enforcement action could be brought.
 

 

This follow up paper also introduced issues not raised in the original consultation document, such as grace periods, and the scope of rights in certain further regulated sectors such as computer programs.
 

 

25 June 1997 – Almost ten years after the previous failed attempt, a Green Paper on the Community patent and the patent system inEurope was presented by the commission.  This sought to again revive the debate on the Community patent issue.  Importantly this green paper attempted to address the issues surrounding previous ratification failures by establishing a Community patent system, not based on theLuxembourg convention, which was an intergovernmental agreement between the member states, but by calling into play powers granted to the European Commission under Article 235 (now Article 308) of the already ratified EC Treaty.
 

 

Article 308 (ex Article 235)

 

If action by the Community should prove necessary to attain, in the course of the operation of the common market, one of the objectives of the Community and this Treaty has not provided the necessary powers, the Council shall, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, take the appropriate measures.
 

 

It was hoped that the new system would overcome one of the main stumbling blocks of theLuxembourgagreement which was the translation requirements for the new patent.  Translation requirements accounted for a large portion of the costs involved in securing a European patent in multiple states, and suggestions on reducing the number of languages used in the new patent, to those common to the European Patent Office (French, German and English), raised the issue of placing member states that did not use one of those three main languages at a disadvantage.
 

 

A suggested solution was to limit the translation requirement to the patent claims, and for a full translation to be provided only if required, and before any enforcement action was taken by the patentee.  The intention was that the full translation would be provided and funded by the office.  
 

 

15 December 1989 – Fourteen years after the original Luxembourg Convention was held, an attempt to revive the issue was made, again inLuxembourg.  Although the original convention was revised it again failed due to a failure for all states to agree and ratify the treaty. 
 

 

1 June 1978 – First European Patent Applications Filed.
 

 

7 October 1977 – Convention on the Grant of European Patents – (European Patent Convention) enters into force forBelgium,Germany,France,Luxembourg,Netherlands,Switzerland andUnited Kingdom and on 1 May 1978 forSweden. Subsequently other countries have joined the EPC.
 

 

17 November 1975 – “Luxembourg Convention” – The creation of a Unified Community Patent was seen as a natural extension of the earlier Munich Convention. It sought to ensure that once a patent was granted it would be subject to the same legal provisions in each member state of the Community.  Initially both the Munich Convention and the Luxembourg Convention were intended to enter in to force together, in time for the opening of the newly created European Patent Office. Taking into account the delay of the Luxembourg Convention, and that it would be at least two years before the first ‘Munich Convention’ patent applications were filed, it was envisioned that the first European patent applications filed would lead to European Community Patents.
 

 

The intention was for the Munich Convention and the Luxembourg Convention to have effect as a single treaty, which would allow the removal of all borders within the then Common Market, for the acquisition and exploitation of patents.
 

 

 

Importantly, this convention allowed that the patent would exist as a single entity, and could only be transferred, revoked or lapsed in all member states.
 

 

 

It also set provisions on proceedings for infringement of patent rights which aimed to partially resolve the requirement for patent holders to enforce their rights separately in individual states, a problem that still exists today.
 

 

 

Unfortunately, the Luxembourg Convention never entered into force as it was not ratified by enough states.

 

 

 
5 October 1973 – “Munich Convention” – Convention on the Grant of European Patents – (European Patent Convention) – signed, agreeing to a unified procedure for the grant of European Patents and led to a multilateral treaty instituting the European Patent Organisation and providing an autonomous legal system by which European Patents are granted.
 

 

 

27 November 1963 – Strasbourg Convention originally signed by seven member states.  Attempting to unify substantive law for patents within the member states of the Council of Europe, but did not come into force for almost twenty years ie on 1 August 1980 and led to a significant harmonisation of patent laws across European countries.
 

 

 

5 May 1949 – Council of Europe established –United Kingdom,Ireland,Italy,France, the three Benelux countries (Belgium, theNetherlands andLuxembourg),Norway,Denmark andSweden.Greece andTurkey jointed three months later, andIreland andGermany the next year.
 

 

For further information, click here to contact the EUpatent.com team

 

 

 

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