Patents in Europe are becoming More Affordable
Thanks to the London Agreement, the cost of validating a European Patent grant in multiple member states of the European Patent Convention (EPC) is becoming more affordable.
Prior to the London Agreement coming into force, the EPC member countries had 26 different national languages and required a patent owner to validate a European granted patent in each member state by submitting a full translation of the patent grant. The cost of a full translation into a national language of the desired country (up to 40% of the overall costs) has always been a major factor when deciding in which countries to validate.
In May of 2008, the London Agreement came into force for the purpose of addressing the translation requirements. The effect of the London Agreement is to reduce the cost of validating a European patent grant in all counties which are signatories to the Agreement. The London Agreement establishes that the only translation that member states may require is of the claims, provided that the remaining European patent specification is in the official language that the member country has designated under the Agreement.
Under the London Agreement, countries in which English, French or German are the national language cannot require any translation beyond what is specified during the European Patent Office (EPO) grant procedure. The remaining countries have selected English as the preferred national language for patents. Thus, for those countries where the patent specification and claims are in English, only the claims need to be translated.
As of April 2011, the current London Agreement member states include: Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom. The Finnish Parliament decided in March of 2011 that they will sign the London Agreement, but have not stated when their national legislation will be amended. Possible future members include Belgium, Ireland and Austria. Unfortunately the London Agreement is not retroactive, thus many member countries are allowing this process only from a certain date. For instance, Hungary will validate a patent upon translation of the claims only for European Patents granted after January 1, 2011.
Countries that have stated that they do not intend to become members are Italy and Spain, where full translations of the patent specification continue to be required. The remaining non-member countries full translations are required include: Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, the Slovak Republic, and Turkey.
Belgium has confirmed that German is a recognized official national language in addition to French and Dutch. Therefore, a German translation may be used to complete the national validation in Belgium of patents drafted in English.
Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina are not members of the London Agreement but will allow translations of the claims only. Malta will accept a full English translation.
UNITARY EUROPEAN PATENT It just keeps getting better!
Twelve member countries have signed a proposal that would allow for the creation of a unitary community patent which would cover the entire European Community. The proposal permits the EU patent to be granted in English, German or French and would require only a single renewal fee to maintain the patent in force. Currently the proposal is under review by the European Court of Justice to determine if the proposed patent would be compatible with existing EU treaties.
By: Michael A. Slavin
Registered Patent Attorney