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Friday, 26 November 2010

Europe burns with impatience, while heat is turned up on Pizza

Like the EU patent, the perfect pizza
requires the subjugation of each
individual ingredient for the good
of the whole
Many of the readers of this blog also avidly follow developments as they unfold on EurActiv.  Those who do will not have been disappointed by today's offering, "An EU patent without Italy? Member states turn up the heat".  It runs like this:
"Italy found itself in a political squeeze [Merpel says, it makes a change from the squeezes apparently preferred by that country's Prime Minister: see here and here] on Thursday ... as several key European countries moved to create a unified patent to protect the design of products sold across their borders.

The European Commission presented its proposal for an EU-patent a decade ago, but negotiations have been bogged down by linguistic, technical and legal difficulties. [deleted: boring repetition of how expensive patenting is in Europe, the usual recital of how inconsistent are its judicial decision and the popular assertion that the outcome of patent disputes would be more predictable if there were only one court]
The Commission presented in July a proposal to end the deadlock over linguistic disputes. The EU commissioner in charge of the dossier, Michel Barnier, proposed to maintain English, French and German as official languages for an EU patent but to allow paid-for translations of patents filed in other EU languages [which would work well in practice, but not in principle since ...] ... this is opposed by other member states, including Spain and Italy.
The Belgian Presidency said overcoming legal and linguistic problems would be a top priority during its six months at the helm of the European Council. A number of compromise proposals have been circulated and five competitiveness Councils have been scheduled during the six-month presidency, which ends in December.
At the last Competitiveness Council on 10 November it was clear negotiations had hit a serious impasse.
After more than a decade of frustrating negotiations to draft a single patent for the 27-nation bloc, a group of countries have decided to go it alone [This shows that the EU is not a one-size-fits-all entity and that there's room within its rules for a surprising degree of diversity and creativity].
Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Estonia said they will formally ask the European Commission to help them write a common patent agreement based on "enhanced cooperation" between those countries. More EU member states are welcome to join the pact.
It was a bold and rarely used tactic to pressure Italy to drop its demand that Italian be one of the official languages of an EU patent. Without Italy's vote, the EU Council of Ministers – which represents the bloc's 27 governments – did not have unanimous support behind a proposal for an EU patent that would be translated into English as well as French or German, the three working languages of the Union.
"It's clear we could not reach an agreement in the foreseeable future," said Swedish Minister for Enterprise and Energy Maud Olofsson. ...
[More standard regurgitation of the need for an EU patent deleted]
The single patent is a critical piece of several EU strategies, including the single market and the Innovation Union. "I don't think we can afford the luxury of not growing competitively," said Frenchman Michel Barnier, the EU's commissioner for the internal market and services [Says Merpel, this is a rare and delightful concession by a Frenchman that we can't afford luxuries.  Tell that to the European Court of Justice in Case C-487/07 L'Oreal v Bellure, as criticised by the referring court here.  The only reason why luxuries are luxuries is that we can't afford them and they're protected against competition].
He said he would act rapidly on the request for enhanced cooperation on a new patent, and present a proposal to the Competitiveness Council at its meeting on 10 December.
This would mark only the second time that member states have used the side door of enhanced cooperation to sidestep blocking members. In July, 14 countries – including Italy, Spain, Germany and France - agreed to simplify divorce rules for couples of different nationalities.

This time, however, Italy appears ready to fight any proposal about enhanced competition on patents. "This is not possible," said Giuseppe Pizza [real name: not a spoof, despite the title of the EurActive article], Italian secretary of state, claiming such action would undermine the internal market of the EU.
Surprisingly, Spain is no longer insisting that Spanish also be an official patent language, while Poland took Italy's side and requested another round of negotiations. France, the Czech Republic and Malta all said they were prepared to explore and analyse a Commission plan for enhanced cooperation on a patent.  Such a patent would need the participation of at least nine member states. It would have to be approved by a qualified majority in the Parliament and the Council, but only participating members would be allowed to vote in Council, according to legal staff.
"It's high time for those who wish to move forward with a higher form of cooperation to do so," said Peter Hintze, a German secretary of state. "The world is changing so quickly and the speed of change is accelerating. We cannot wait." [Actually we can. Change always takes time and it's better to get it right. It has not been demonstrated that the speed of change in the world at large has been affecting the scheme for the grant of patents in Europe as they are now]."
The plot thickens.

History of the pizza here
English pizza recipes here
European patent for the new, improved pizza here

2 comments:

Dave said...

Jeremy,

I agree that the speed of change is not really an issue, but the time and resources wasted over the last 40 years in trying to make the EU patent system cheaper and more efficient/legallly certain etc(insert relevant policy maker's jargon as appropriate) is becoming a bit of a joke.

Interesting that Italy has moved to the blocking position though - a tag team move with Spain from the meeting earlier this month, in order to delay a "failure to agree" motion by Council (necessary for enhanced cooperation)? Who knows....

Anonymous said...

Surprisingly, Spain is no longer insisting that Spanish also be an official patent language, while Poland took Italy's side and requested another round of negotiations.

I wish the journalist had elaborated a bit more on the Spanish position, because this is either very surprising, or not a change of position at all. After all, Spain had brought forward with Italy the "English-only" option, so that, in theory, it was already no longer insisting on Spanish.

Of course, considering that this "English-only" proposal remained studiously vague, in particular with respect to how it could be reconciled with the European Patent Convention, it was obviously more a spoiling maneuver than a serious proposal, especially since the Spanish delegation had plenty of trouble staying "on message" and regularly reverted to demanding Spanish as a prosecution language and/or compulsory translations to Spanish of all granted EU patents.

Of course, there's the possibility that there isn't any coherent Spanish position at all, the current Spanish government not being reputed for having a particularly solid grasp of complex issues or a consistent approach to problems...or perhaps it's just that there's a growing perception that this is not the moment to annoy Angela Merkel...

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