The prospects for a single, European Union-wide patent regime appear to be dimming, as industry groups representing some of the most innovative companies active in Europe are urging the European Commission to abandon its promise earlier this year to make "one final push" to adopt the so-called Community patent.
The Community patent promises inventors a cheaper way of registering their inventions across the Union, and more legal certainty for their patents. It is seen as a vital instrument to boost the Union's competitiveness with trading partners such as the United States and Japan.
It has been the aim of forward-looking politicians in Europe for over three decades, but disputes over what language patent applications should be translated into have prevented progress.
In January the Commission, the Union’s executive body, announced it was making one last effort to break the deadlock. It opened a consultation process with industry and other interested organizations and individuals, which concludes in less than two weeks with a hearing in Brussels.
But far from receiving support from industry, which has most to gain from the Community patent, three of the most influential industry lobby groups have advised the Commission to drop the initiative for now, and instead improve the existing patent regime run by the European Patent Office in Munich, Germany.
Some fear a lobbying nightmare similar to the one they experienced last year when European politicians tried to pass a law on the patentability of software-related inventions.
That debate was won by anti-software patent groups, who successfully convinced the European Parliament that the proposed law would stifle innovation by creating a legal minefield for software developers.
“To start a debate about the Community patent now would be like opening a Pandora's box,” said Francisco Mingorance, a European policy expert with the Business Software Alliance, an industry group that represents some of the largest technology companies in the world, including Microsoft Corp..
“Looking at the debacle over the proposed law on computer-implemented inventions, a lot of companies fear this could happen all over again but on an even broader scale in a debate about the Community patent,” Mingorance said.
Similarly, the International Chamber of Commerce, a grouping of large companies from around the world, including Air Liquide of France, General Electric of the United States and GlaxoSmithkline based in the U.K., has urged the commission to back off from the Community patent project.
“A revisiting of substantive patent law in the context of the Community patent is not warranted,” it said in its submission to the Commission’s consultation.
Others believe any compromise that suits all 25 countries in the Union would be a bad foundation for the Community patent. An agreement requires unanimous support from all the member states.
“No Community patent would be better than a bad Community patent,” said Ilias Konteas, an advisor on intellectual property matters at UNICE, the federation of European employers, which represents most of the large companies in Europe.