European Patent Convention

Signed in 1973 by the Benelux countries,France,Germany,Switzerland and theUnited Kingdom, the European Patent Convention created the European Patent Organization (EPO) and offers patent protection throughout the sig­natory states. It is the largest regional patent system in the world, and now covers all 27 member states of the European Union, together withCroatia,Iceland,Liechtenstein,Monaco,Norway,Switzerland andTurkey. In addition,Albania,Bosnia and Herzegovina,Serbia and FYR Macedonia also recognise European patents on their territory, making them valid in 38 countries in all (representing a market of some 570 million people). An updated version of the European Patent Convention entered into force in December 2007.

The EPO is an intergovernmental body governed by an administrative council on which all member states are represented and which takes decisions by unanimity. Its executive organ is the European Patent Office, operational since 1977 and based inMunich. The Office is an important as a coordinator and sup­plier of technical information, and is active internationally in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and through bilateral contacts with third countries. The EPO’s official languages are English, French and German.

Discussion about introducing a single patent which would be valid for the whole of the EU – with the Union having its own patent court and acceding to the EPO in its own right – has taken place over many years. However, there has never been agreement on the specific question of the language régime – both for the patent itself and for legal proceedings relating to it – a question on which unanimity is required in the Council of Ministers. Although the European Commission tabled successive legislative proposals for a common patent, they were blocked by Italian and Spanish insistence that their own national languages be added to the EPO’s three official languages for any new arrangements. The deadlock was finally broken in December 2010, when a dozen member states invited the Commission to propose that they be empowered to proceed by enhanced cooperation in the field of ‘unitary patent protection’. All other member states except Italy and Spain quickly joined this initiative, which was adopted by the Council in March 2011, having secured the consent of the European Parliament the previous month. The Commission will now bring forward specific proposals for a European patent among the 25.

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry

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