By James DeGiulio --
In late December, after once again failing to get unanimous approval for a united EP patent system, twelve of the EU countries supporting the unified system requested relief from "enhanced cooperation," a rarely used provision of the Lisbon Treaty (see "Several EU Members Push for Unified Patent System"). This non-traditional legislative campaign proved successful, for on February 15, the European Parliament approved the request to use "enhanced cooperation" to launch the reform of the European system, clearing perhaps the last major hurdle leading to a new unified single patent system in Europe. The vote passed with the support of 471 members of the parliament. Another 160 members opposed the bill, while 42 abstained.
Although there are still additional legislative steps required to ensure the reform, the February 15 approval paves the way for EU members to move forward with their proposal to create a unified EP patent system and court, despite holdouts from Italy and Spain. Other opponents of the unified EP patent system, such as the Czech Republic and Cyprus, have now indicated that they plan to participate in the new reform. Under the enhanced cooperation doctrine, Italy and Spain would still be able to join the efforts at any time.
The reform still requires additional legislative steps. The request now moves to the European Council, which is expected to approve it at the March 9-10 session. The process would then move to the European Commission. The Commission will then submit two legislative proposals: one establishing the single patent under the co-decision procedure, and the other a consultation procedure on the language regime, an issue that has repeatedly stalled negotiations. In an effort to obviate this language issue, the EPO signed a deal with Google in November 2010 to translate European patents. Regardless of the specifics of the final proposal, the EU has never been closer to establishing a new system that will abolish the differences between patent rights in the member states, with an aim to making the patent process more streamlined, creating a more level playing field for European businesses.