European patent laws a 'competitive disadvantage'

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Patent, European union, London

The EU has been urged to subsidise patent applications for young
innovative companies in order to ensure that Europe's biotech and
agricultural sectors remain competitive.

EuropaBio, the European body that represents the biotech sector, is campaigning for reduced EPO (European patent office) fees for biotech SMEs.

Secretary general Johan van Hemelrijck explained to FoodNavigator why his organisation believes that such a move is vital.

"First of all, the EPO does not deliver European patents that are valid throughout the bloc,"​ said van Hemelrijck.

"There is no such thing as a European patent. A company ultimately has to confirm its patent in each member state.

"This is costly. We have calculated that for the average patent, Europe is four times as expensive as the US."

The European Commission has been trying since 1972 to install a Europe-wide patent, but has consistently failed to get such a project off the ground. van Hemelrijck claimed that in all those years of failure, it is not large industries that have been hurt the most, but SMEs, which are often young and innovative companies.

"These companies are more reluctant to take out patents because of the costs involved. They wait longer, and don't act as diligently, with the result that they have a competitive disadvantage."

In addition, US authorities subsidise companies with less than 300 employees up to 80 per cent of the costs of the patent application. van Hemelrijck said that together with the extra cost and the language barriers involved, this puts European SMEs at a clear competitive disadvantage.

"To overcome this we are therefore asking EU to subsidise young and innovative companies. This would clearly have a knock-on effect in agriculture."

The European Commission supports EuropaBio's objectives, and is hoping to push through proposals that would make European patents cheaper. The commission will present its Regulation on Community Patent in October, and at the centre of this is the London protocol, an initiative that has been subject to numerous rejections from the political ministers.

But European Patent Office (EPO) president, professor Alain Pompidou, is confidnet that an agreement can be made. He said that completion of the London Protocol would be an important move towards the establishment of a 'Community patent', which could eventually cut costs for patents throughout Europe.

This in turn would boost patent uptake by small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and would be integral to Europe's overall innovation drive in sectors such as biotechnology and agriculture.

The London Protocol allows signatory countries to submit patents in just three languages - English, French and German. The London Protocol needs a minimum of eight states to ratify, including France, Germany and the UK.

To date, ten states, including Germany and the UK, have adopted the agreement in parliament, and seven have already deposited their instruments of ratification. France has yet to ratify the treaty.

Translations can account for 20 per cent of the total cost of the European patent. Reducing the number of languages to three could reduce translation costs by around 45 per cent, said Professor Pompidou, up to 3,000 per application.

The saving to industry would be significant. The EPO considered 128,000 patent applications in 2005.

"The EPO is in favour of the Community patent, a relevant, working and cost-efficient Community patent,"​ said Pompidou.

Related topics: Policy

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