Sweden took over the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union this week, promising to push hard for an agreement among the 27 member states on the creation of a single E.U.-wide patent.
The creation of the so-called Community Patent has eluded policy makers for over 30 years but a Swedish diplomat said progress was possible.
For example, last year a new British appeals court decision appears to clash with European regulations that generally forbid granting of a patent for a computer program. The situation is further complicated by the recent success of the Pirate Party, a party campaigning for online civil rights, has won at least one seat in the European Parliament. The Pirate Party wants to reform copyright law, get rid of the patent system, and ensure that citizens’ rights to privacy are respected, according to its web site.
In parallel, Sweden hopes to secure agreement on the creation of a unified patent litigation area that spans the E.U., and they want to lay the basic structures for a patent court system.
“We have prepared a lot of bilateral meetings with the more sceptical countries to try to win them over,” the diplomat said, on the usual condition of anonymity.
“We are aiming high but these goals can be achieved,” she said.
Spain has traditionally been the most opposed to the Community Patent, especially in recent years when the idea of automated translations of patents for all but the three official languages of the European Patent Office (English, French and German) has been accepted by a large majority of E.U. countries.
Sweden’s readiness to push for a breakthrough both on the Community Patent and the single litigation area was both welcomed and dismissed by lobby groups following the issue.
“The Swedish Presidency’s commitment to move the E.U. Community Patent forward is a breath of fresh air,” said Jonathan Zuck, President of the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT), in a statement.
He added that success in Sweden’s negotiations was important to the small firms ACT represents. “With Europe increasingly moving to a knowledge-based economy, the development of a Community Patent will boost and consolidate European competitiveness and innovation capabilities,” he said.
Many followers of the European patent regime believe now is the right time for a breathrough in the long-overdue reforms of the system. Amid the economic downturn, innovation-related policies are taking centre stage because innovation is seen as a way out of the recession, some people argue.
However, opponents of a unified patent system say just the opposite.
“With the financial crisis and climate change as looming priorities, the Swedish presidency is going to be hard-pressed to move forward an agenda that has been mired in deep political fights for the last thirty years,” said Benjamin Henrion, president of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII).
The FFII argues that a Community Patent will make it easier to pass software patents in Europe, and it says a single patent litigation area is merely a way to circumvent the legal authority of the European Court of Justice, which it trusts could safeguard the E.U. from software patents.
“While large US software firms keep up their hopes for cheap enforceable software patents in Europe, the facts on the ground suggest that this debate will crawl, not run,” Henrion said.