* Streamlined system would help business and inventors
* Debate simmers as EU leaders meet to discuss growth
* Top innovator Germany pushes to have patent court in
By John O'Donnell
BRUSSELS, Jan 27 European Union countries
are redoubling efforts to settle a dispute over the introduction
of a single European patent, a move that would cut costs for
inventors and industry but which, after more than three decades
of debate, remains unresolved.
EU leaders, including German chancellor Angela Merkel and
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, meet on Monday to discuss ways
of boosting growth and jobs in an attempt to break with a
previous focus on cutting public debt.
It will also offer an opportunity to end the deadlock over
Europe's fragmented system of patenting, where an inventor
typically now pays up to 35,000 euros ($46,000) to protect an
idea, according to the European Patent Office (EPO).
The expense is many times more than that for a U.S. rival,
because the current European system means a patent must be taken
out in many countries rather with one EU agency. The potential
savings of a single patent, which the EPO estimates could cut
the bill by more than two-thirds, remain elusive.
While most EU member states have agreed to go ahead with a
streamlined patent scheme, it is being held up disagreement
between Germany, France and Britain over which of them should
host the court that will adjudicate in patent disputes.
Denmark, the current holder of the rotating EU presidency,
and other countries including the Netherlands, are pushing to
break the logjam, as Europe's leaders seek to convince sceptical
markets they have a strategy to spur growth from a sluggish
"In these economically challenging times, a unitary patent
would unlock an enormous growth potential for European
businesses and allow us to compete with the United States and
emerging markets," Maxime Verhagen, the Dutch deputy prime
minister and minister for economic affairs and innovation, said
in a statement.
"So let's stop talking and give the European economy a push.
We should close the deal."
Such a move would appear to be a straightforward way to help
European industry, but national pride makes it difficult.
Merkel is reluctant to back down on demands that the court
be in Munich. Germany accounted for roughly 14 percent of all
applications to the European Patent Office in 2011, almost three
times as many as France and far ahead of Britain's 3 percent.
German inventors and industry, led by engineering giants
such as Siemens and Robert Bosch, applied to register more than
33,000 patents in 2010, compared to roughly 80 in Greece and
similar number in Portugal, according to the EPO.
France is arguing that the court to oversee the new patent
scheme should be in Paris; Britain wants it in London.
"We have already made a lot of concessions," said one French
diplomat. "For instance, the legal system is based on German
principles, not French ones."
Sharon Bowles, an influential member of the European
Parliament who was closely involved in a debate about the
location of three EU agencies to monitor banks, insurers and
markets, said the patents dispute followed a familiar pattern.
"It always comes this way," she said "It's jobs. It's
Once in place, the single patent system will avoid the need
for inventors to register and defend their ideas in many
countries and languages.
Italy and Spain, however, have refused to back a deal
because the new regime stipulates the official languages for
patents as English, French and German. They want Italian and
Spanish included too.
The agreement for a single patent had originally been due to
be signed off next month, with the court to be set up in the
first six months of 2012.