EU president Portugal proposes new patent courts

BRUSSELS Thu Oct 11, 2007 1:35pm EDT

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BRUSSELS Oct 11 (Reuters) - EU President Portugal has proposed a new EU patent jurisdiction to end a deadlock over how to defend innovations under the 27-nation bloc's laws, a document obtained by Reuters showed on Thursday.

EU ministers may discuss the plan as soon as December but business and industry groups have already said the proposal is too complicated and unlikely to slash legal costs.

The bloc has failed for decades to create a pan-EU system to protect innovations more cheaply. National patent systems and courts prevail, adding to costs for companies that need to challenge infringements in more than one state.

The European Commission sees tackling the deadlock as crucial to encouraging new inventions and boosting growth.

The Portuguese proposal would create an EU patent jurisdiction, borrowing heavily from the rejected draft European Patent Litigation Agreement of EPLA.

EPLA would have set up a pan-EU court to decide on breaches of patents taken out in states that are part of the European Patent Office, which include more than just the 27 in the EU.

France and others rejected EPLA because it would not be part of EU law and come under the European Court of Justice.

Portugal is proposing a court of first instance and of appeal in each member state for defending patents.

There would also be a central court which could ultimately be linked to the ECJ and its lower Court of First Instance so that the structure is part of EU law.

COMPLICATED

"All divisions would form an integral part of the EU patent jurisdiction," the document said.

"The language of proceedings at second instance (appeal level) would be the language of proceedings at first instance," the document added.

Parties could chose which court they wanted to use.

All judges of the EU patent jurisdiction would be appointed by a unanimous vote by the bloc's member state council.

EU states should pay for the domestic courts while the EU budget would fund the centralised courts, the document said.

BusinessEurope, the EU's top business lobby, said it wants EPLA, however, and that the Portuguese proposal was too complicated.

"The question is do we have the necessary number of judges right now, and one can argue whether it could lead to unnecessary expense and costs," said Ilias Konteas, a BusinessEurope legal adviser.

"Linked to the number of courts is what language they will operate in. The national language would need translation and interpreters and the costs would rise," Konteas said.

EICTA, which lobbies on behalf of electronics companies, a sector heavily involved in patents, welcomed the Portuguese proposal but said it needed further work.

"I think it's certainly a good step forward. It could be more workable because in its current state it's too complicated," EICTA's Mark MacGann said.

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