EU PATENT REFORM = JAIL FOR INFRINGERS? Legislation is being proposed by the European Commission to criminalize all intellectual property infringements, including patents. The law would provide blanket protection to all forms of intellectual property through the 25 countries of the union.
Currently, a WTO treaty in the EU provides prison sentences for copyright and trademark infringement, but it does not cover patents. Like everywhere else, patent infringement is exclusively relegated to civil actions in union member nations. However, a recent ruling by
Europe's top court in September said that criminal sanctions, including jail time, were available to prosecutors for enforcing European laws, which include intellectual property.
Accordingly, the European Commission is readying a law, scheduled for debate in 2006, for enacting criminal penalties for patent infringement. Under the current proposal, the criminal penalties must be enforced in national courts - countries that fail to prosecute wrongdoers will end up in the EU courts. Prison penalty levels will be drawn from a shopping list of minimum criminal sanctions agreed by EU justice ministers in April 2002, to allow approximations of sentences to be made across Europe. Also, Brussels will be able to stipulate that EU laws carry a criminal penalty and set the minimum tariff for offenders convicted in a national court.
Not surprisingly, just about everyone in the industry is opposed to the proposal (even Microsoft and the FII are on the same side of this).