Court Ends Tussle Over EU-Wide Patent Scheme

     (CN) – The EU high court on Tuesday dismissed Spain’s efforts to derail legislation that created a unified EU-wide patent system, finding the new scheme essential to protecting intellectual-property rights.
     European lawmakers passed legislation in 2012 to create a unitary patent system for the entire EU, rather than the hodgepodge of national laws that implement patent protection.
     The new system enables inventors to apply for EU-wide patent protection, rather than filing an application in each member state where the invention might be used. The legislation also establishes a single patent court with jurisdiction across the European Union.
     Spain filed a pair of challenges to halt the legislation, calling the new system an “empty shell” that will only work if all member states sign off on the unified patent court. The nation also expressed concern that its own national competence will be undermined by the unitary patent system, and questioned the decision to make only English, German and French the official languages of the new patent office.
     Following the advice of a court adviser this past year, the European Court of Justice on Tuesday dismissed both of Spain’s actions challenging the legislation. In one opinion, the high court noted that the laws are not written to restrict the conditions for granting patents – which has been and will continue to be governed by the European Patent Convention and not EU law, the court said.
     “The regulation merely establishes the conditions under which a European patent previously granted by the European Patent Office pursuant to the provisions of the patent convention may, at the request of the patent proprietor, benefit from unitary effect, and provides a definition of that unitary effect,” the Luxembourg-based court wrote.
     As for Spain’s claim that uniform protection of intellectual-property rights is not a constitutionally valid reason for new laws that abridge national powers, the court noted that national sovereignty is actually guaranteed under the new system – as is fuller protection for the patent holder.
     “The unitary patent protection established by the contested regulation is apt to prevent divergences in terms of patent protection in the participating member states and, accordingly, provides uniform protection,” the court wrote.
     Furthermore, it will be member states that implement the unified patent system, not the European Commission or lawmakers which are not members of the patent convention, the court said.
     In a separate opinion, the high court rejected Spain’s complaint that only English, French and German would be the new system’s official languages. Lawmakers rightly considered costs in deciding to use only three languages, according to the court.
     “One of the choices facing an inventor when planning to obtain protection for his invention by the grant of a patent concerns the territorial scope of the desired protection, which will be decided after an overall assessment of the advantages and drawbacks of each option, which includes complex economic evaluations of the commercial interest of having protection in the various states compared with the sum of the costs entailed in obtaining the grant of a patent in those states, including translation costs,” the court wrote.
     The old patent system “can be described as complex and particularly costly for an applicant who seeks to obtain protection for his invention through the issue of a patent covering the territory of all the member states,” the court continued. “Such complexity and costs, which are due to the requirement that the holder of a European patent issued by the patent office must, in order to validate that patent on the territory of a member state, submit a translation of that patent in the official language of that member state, constitute an obstacle to patent protection within the European Union.”
     Three official languages will help foster innovation and competition better than the old patent system, which recognized – and required patent holders to translate their applications into – 23 official languages, the court concluded.

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