MPs challenge EU-wide patent plans
Claims that British companies will benefit to the tune of £20 million a year from an EU-wide single patent have been challenged by MPs.
A report by the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee said a draft deal made a year ago to provide a cheaper, more efficient one-stop shop for patent registration across Europe was likely to hinder, not help, small and medium-sized firms.
The report said evidence from the patent industry showed the sector "overwhelmingly" believed the Unified Patent Court (UPC) - to ensure a single level of protection for patents under the EU system - would actually increase litigation costs and be more "burdensome" than the existing UK system.
Agreement on a single patent was reached a year ago between 25 of the 27 EU countries: Italy and Spain opted out in protest at a decision to use only English, French and German for patent applications and legal challenges.
At the time, the Government welcomed the move on the basis of a report ordered by Prime Minister David Cameron, which championed a single EU patent to boost competition with key single markets such as the US, India and China.
After concluding the deal in Luxembourg in June 2011, UK intellectual property minister Baroness Wilcox said: "The savings to UK business are likely to be around £20 million per year in translations costs alone."
Although the system - not in force until the terms of the patent court have been finalised - was aimed at granting a single patent covering 25 countries at an affordable cost, very few SMEs required protection in all 25 countries, said the report.
Committee chairman Bill Cash said: "Although the theory of a single EU-wide patent - with a single court to administer it - has long been thought desirable, the practice has long been elusive. These latest proposals appear, regrettably, to be a further example of this.
"They would increase costs for SMEs and hinder the enforcement of patents within the EU, particularly by giving additional jurisdiction to the Court of Justice of the EU and not allowing the invalidity of a patent to be a defence to infringement proceedings."
He said the negotiations had been "rushed and effectively excluded the views of European patent professions" and now appeared "to be a damage-limitation exercise".