Here's a letter from Sergio Dompé (chairman of the Italian pharmaceuticals industry association Farmindustrìa), which had the good fortune to be published in the Financial Times last Friday, 9 July [with the IPKat's comments, as usual, in red].
Tongue-tied troubles over patents
Sir, Michel Barnier, the European commissioner for the internal market, has proposed limiting the “official” languages for the filing of European patents to just three: English, French and German, thereby excluding Spanish and Italian. The proposal has of course given rise to the obvious national polemics, but rather misses the point.
As chairman of the Italian pharmaceutical manufacturers association Farmindustria – a group deeply involved in research and in the filing of patents – I must observe that the cost of translating these filings is the least of our problems [this isn't surprising if you consider the size and spending power of the businesses associated with Farmindustria]. It is the patent system itself that is creaking and is steadily less able to defend and reward the intellectual property that it is supposed to protect [Fact? assertion? Can any reader substantiate this? And is it the patent system which is at fault, or its erosion by competition authorities?]. This vulnerability is the real risk.
As for the languages, if as is stated the purpose of this exercise is to reduce our translation costs, then logic would suggest that the most effective solution would be to standardise on a single language [This has been suggested, but not everyone warms to it. Why, some souls even thought it would be a good idea to make Italian an official language for Community trade mark and design administration through OHIM].
If this cannot be English for reasons of grandeur and national sentiment in countries more influential at the European level than Italy, then I suggest we might want to settle on Star Trek’s Klingon or the artificial language recently invented for the film Avatar".This is the response on behalf of Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys president Alasdair Poore, which was not selected for publication:
"Sir, Instead of putting himself through the hassle of learning a difficult language such as Klingon or Na’vi (‘Tongue-tied over patents’, July 9 2010) Sergio Dompé could save himself a lot of trouble: Latin perhaps, the educated lingua franca in Europe for many centuries.
However, it is wrong to belittle the costs of translation. For all businesses, including pharma, they add up; and for small businesses they can be prohibitive, and certainly discourage access to the European system. Of course, Europe could just do what the world’s scientific and industrial communities already do: put issues of perceived grandeur and national status to one side and settle on English [Some chance ...!].
However, turning to the crux of Signor Dompé letter, is the “patent system itself … creaking”? As President of the UK institution that represents 1,850 patent attorneys – most of whom are also qualified as European patent attorneys [and many of whom certainly creak, whether the patent system does or not ...] – I must take issue with this.Bravo, says the IPKat! But don't dismiss the language of those Avatars, says Merpel: in Na'vi the word for "novel" -- an essential ingredient of any valid patent -- is "mip", which as every good IP person knows, stands for Managing Intellectual Property.
“Creaking” suggests the noisy precursor to collapse. Over the last 20 years, the patent system worldwide has been amazingly successful [which is possibly why more people are using it and why investors have not apparently lost confidence in it]. However, while Signor Dompé is right to identify major concerns, mostly they are not of “creaking”, but of silence: the silence of nothing visible happening, of patent applications waiting for years to be processed, and in some industries, although not usually the pharmaceutical industry, being typically granted after the full product life cycle to which they are relevant.
Patent offices around the world are taking steps to address these issues (see for example [the US/UK action plan to tackle backlogs, here], and the report of the recent [FICPI] Colloquium on the Patent Backlog Crisis). It is important that Governments around the world are not deflected by other parochial concerns – otherwise the patent system may not be worth making translations for".