(Corrects comparison to Chinese patent cost level)
* EU patent first considered in 1973, finally agreed
* However, decision pending ruling by ECJ
* Patent office will be split between Berlin, Paris, London
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS, Dec 10 A system that made patent
registration up to 60 times more expensive in Europe than in
China is being scrapped in favour of a one-size-fits-all
pan-European process, EU officials said on Monday.
Signing off on a plan first considered in 1973, 25 of the
EU's 27 industry ministers - apart from Spain and Italy - agreed
to allow inventors to register their idea with one EU agency.
The old system makes the process 18 times more expensive
than in the United States and 60 times more than in China. Under
the previous system, patents had to be registered separately in
individual EU countries - up to 27 times to cover the whole EU.
Rome and Madrid are challenging the right to proceed at the
EU Court of Justice (ECJ), saying the new patent system does not
give due recognition to their languages.
A top adviser to Europe's highest court is scheduled to give
an opinion on Italy's and Spain's legal challenge on Tuesday and
judges in the court will make a ruling in the next few months.
"This is a historic decision that enhances Europe's
competitiveness," EU Financial Services Chief Michel Barnier,
who attended the meeting of ministers, told a news conference.
"The door is open for Italy and Spain to join."
The European Parliament is expected to approve the single
patent systen on Tuesday in Strasbourg. If the ECJ rejects
Rome's and Madrid's case, the patent can come into force on Jan.
An EU patent, which will still cost more than double the
U.S. level at about 5,000 euros ($6,500) on average, will not
revolutionise innovation in Europe overnight.
But the reform is good for business at a time when Americans
obtained four times as many patents as Europeans did in 2011.
Patents, which grant the exclusive legal right to develop
and exploit an idea for a limited period of time, are seen as
central to encouraging innovation by ensuring that innovators
can properly benefit from their efforts.
U.S. COMPANIES FAR AHEAD
U.S. companies were far ahead of Europe and Japan in terms
of innovation in 2012, according to a Thomson Reuters study that
named 47 U.S. companies in its list of the world's top 100
innovators, based on the number of patents registered, their
success, international impact and level of ideas.
An EU patent was first created in 1973 in Munich, but the
agreement never entered into force, according to the Parliament.
While EU countries have long agreed over the benefits of a
unitary patent, Germany, France and Britain disputed who should
host the court that will adjudicate in patent disputes.
The EU's public debt and banking crisis and a stagnant
economy that pushed unemployment levels to 26 million people in
October helped overcome those divisions, as EU leaders search
for growth at a time of sharp spending cuts.
At a summit in June, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French
President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David
Cameron agreed to split the court between three centres -
Munich, Paris and London, depending on the type of patent.
Under the compromise, the court's headquarters will be in
Paris, with some functions in London and Munich.
Anyone seeking to challenge an infringement of their patent
in life sciences, for example, will do so in London. Cases
concerning engineering and physics will be dealt with in Munich.
($1 = 0.7736 euros)
(Additional reporting by Ethan Bilby; Editing by Michael Roddy)