Patent law aims to protect individuals and companies that have invested heavily in researching or inventing new products. When applying for a patent, an authority examines the application and states that it is truly a new invention that has not been done before.
What is protected by a patent is the technical function of an invention and the protection is time-limited. The protection period for patents in Europe is usually 20 years. Every year, however, the person with the patent pays a fee for retaining the patent, and over the years the fee increases. This means that many resigns the right to their patents before the 20-year limit. This is especially the case in sectors where technological progress is rapidly advancing and where a patent protecting a 5 to 10 year old invention is not considered to have any commercial value anymore.
The basic idea is that anyone who invented something new has the exclusive right to exploit the invention commercially for a number of years, so that the inventor can recover a part of the investment in the form of money, research efforts and time underlying the product that is covered by the patent. At the same time, society benefits on making the invention accessible to all, so that it can be further developed and spread at a lower cost.
The patent system is intended to create a balance where research and innovation are encouraged, but also where the new invention benefits as many people as possible as soon as possible.
Those who have created an invention of course want protection for it in the widest geographical area as possible. For natural reasons, a Swedish company that has developed a new medicine after years of advanced research and investment wish to ensure that the protection of medicine does not only apply in Sweden, but wherever it is used.
Over the past 40 years, we have discussed the possibility of seeking a unitary patent valid in the whole EU. In 1977, the European Patent Office (EPO) was created, which meant that we reached halfway, in the extent that it became possible to get a single patent decision instead of having to apply for separate patents in each member state. Despite this, one had to translate the patent into all different languages and get it approved in all countries separately. In the event of a dispute over the patent, parallel legal proceedings have been required in national courts in all different countries, and there has been no guarantee that these processes would end in the same way in the courts of the various countries, even though the framework of rules were common.
This complicated system meant that only the cost of applying for a patent valid in half of EU´s member states cost more than 10 times that of a US patent! National prestige about what language the patent was supposed to be translated into and other technical issues blocked the ability to reach a solution for decades.
During the last parliamentary term, I was the one responsible for patent issues on behalf of the Liberal Group. In that capacity I had a key role in the negotiating delegation, which on behalf of the European Parliament paved the way for the parliament and 25 of 27 member states in the fall of 2012 to finally agree to create a single unitary EU patent.
Once in place, it will mean that an application submitted to the European Patent Office will have an automatic unified effect in all 25 countries participating in the deepened cooperation on patent issues. (Spain and Italy have chosen to opt-out)
There will also be a new unitary patent court to resolve disputes about the new EU patents in a coherent legal process. This will drastically reduce the cost of applying for patents and make it easier to defend patents against intrusion. It will also lead to improvements for those who consider someone to have a patent on wrong grounds, since it will now be possible to get an “incorrect” patent invalidated in a coherent legal process, instead of having to have a process in all countries.
The EU patent is a brilliant example of how common European solutions can create an added value for both citizens and businesses. The EU patent will be an invaluable tool for strengthening research, innovation, entrepreneurship and growth in our high-tech and highly competitive globalized era.