Monday, January 16, 2006

EU RE-STARTS PUSH FOR PATENT REFORM: After last year's failed attempt at creating an "EU Patent," legislators in the European Union are re-starting efforts to reform the EU patent regime. Currently, many EU technology companies are complaining that the absence of a functioning EU-wide patent regime is hampering cost-effective patenting. According to a recent study commissioned by Brussels, the average cost of registering patents across the EU typically varies between €37,500 and €57,000 (roughly $45,500-$69,000 US). In contrast, the average cost of registering a US patent is about €10,000 ($12,000 US). This significant difference in filing costs is often cited by Brussels officials as part of the explanation for the EU's failure to improve levels of innovation.

One reason the original proposal failed was the inability of members to agree on a standard language for use in patent filing. One of the significat costs of EU patenting involves translating the necessary documents into numerous languages.

However, the primary reason that reform failed was the percieved notion that "US-style" software patents would become part of EU practice. Currently, each member state has different requirements for allowing software patents - some countries are more permissive, while others are more restrictive. The EU Patent Office currently allows software patents, as long as they provide some "technical effect." As you can guess, this has lead to inconsistent results for applicants seeking protection on software technologies, where patent applications are allowed in some countries, and prohibited in others. The unfortunate result of this is that applicants typically expend thousands of dollars before determining whether or not their applications provide ample "technical effect" to satisfy the whims of a particular examiner.

Predictably, anti-software groups continue to oppose most reforms, claiming that mayhem and chaos will result if any form of software patenting is allowed to stand. If the proposals move forward, you can expect a replay of last spring's demagoguery from the "no software patents" crowd, and it remains to be seen if the pro-software factions will counter in kind.

Charlie McGreevy, who is the European Union Commissioner for Internal Market and Services is inviting individuals and commercial enterprises to participate in an "Internet consultation" that will run until March 31, 2006. The results of the internet debate are set to be the basis for a hearing on the issue scheduled for June 13.

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