Luke warm reception for patent agreement

UNICE, the union of industrial and employers' confederations of Europe, has questioned aspects of the Competitiveness Council's agreement on a Community patent

. In a statement, the organisation said that in drafting a framework for the patent on which all Member States agreed, the Council had lost sight of the needs of European businesses. It that while it regards the agreement as an important political development, it feels that '[...] political compromises have moved the agreement away from the instrument that business needs today if it wants to compete with its main trading counterparts and, in this respect, does not fully meet users' needs.' The assessment focuses on three elements of the compromise which UNICE feels run counter to the interests of European business: the jurisdictional system for the patent, translation requirements, and the relationship between national patent offices and the European Patent Office (EPO). With regards to the jurisdictional system, UNICE welcomes the creation of a unitary court for the Community Patent, which it says will ensure consistent case law. Less welcome is the proposed seven year transition period to such a system, during which national patent courts will assume jurisdiction. UNICE states that that this will be 'bad for legal certainty' and urges Member States to reconsider their position. The agreement reached by the Council regarding the language of patent documents states that while applications can be submitted in any of the three official languages of the EPO, successful claims must be filed in all official Community languages at the applicant's cost. UNICE's assessment is that this will create excessive and unnecessary costs that will be felt most keenly by small and medium sized enterprises, scientists and research centres. Regarding the relationship between national patent offices and the EPO, while UNICE supports the fact that the EPO alone will be responsible for examining applications and granting Community patents, their statement expresses 'serious concern' that national patent offices could be called upon to carry out search work on the EPO's behalf. This is a decision, say UNICE: '[...] that will effect the quality of the Community patent system.' UNICE urges both the Commission and Member States to take account of these concerns before adoption of the Community patent regulation. Discussions on a Community patent have been ongoing since 1975, but disagreements on issues such as the official languages of patent documents and the future role of national patent infrastructures have delayed finding a position acceptable to all Member States until now. MF