By James DeGiulio --
Earlier this year, we reported that the European Union was on the verge of adopting a new patent system that would create a unified patent and patent court (see "Europe Takes Step Closer to Single EU Patent and Patent Court"). However, the 30-year push to unify the European Union patent system will continue, as ministers from the EU's 27 member states could not reach the unanimous approval needed to enact the system at a November meeting in Brussels. Frustrated with the repeated failure to pass the new system, the 23 EU members that support the European common patent are trying to push the reform through despite the lack of a unanimous vote.
On December 10, eleven of the EU countries signed letters formally requesting that the European Commission draft a proposal based on the most recent compromise, and another twelve countries suggested moving forward with "enhanced cooperation," a rarely used provision of the Lisbon Treaty. This provision would allow some member states to move forward immediately with the new unified patent system, leaving the possibility of others to join at a later stage. The move will put pressure on holdouts Italy and Spain, and may tip the scales for undecided countries such as Czech Republic and Cyprus. This is only the second time that member states have used enhanced cooperation to sidestep blocking members.
The question of which languages to use in a unified EU patent has long been a roadblock to reaching unanimous agreement among member states. In July, the European Commission submitted a proposed translation scheme to the council using English, French, and German, leading to holdouts from Spain and Italy due to the exclusion of their native tongues. Italy wants an English-only patent system and Spain says the plan discriminates against Spanish companies.