Azzurri take aim at "creaking" patent system

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.

“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".
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.

Azzurri here and here
Na'vi words here
Navy words here
Navvy words here
Azzurri take aim at "creaking" patent system Azzurri take aim at "creaking" patent system Reviewed by Jeremy on Tuesday, July 13, 2010 Rating: 5


  1. The Community Patent is about efficiency in the enforcement process and clarity of status of an invention across the whole EU. Its about putting the exploitation of innovation above the bank accounts of translators and patent attornies for the economic benefit of Europe as a whole

  2. I think that the Italian position is reasonable. If one of the purposes of the EU-Patent system is to reduce the cost for getting a Europe-wide patent protection, only one language system (English) is the more consistent solution.
    The regulation proposed by the Commission (English, French and German) creates a competitive advantage for German and French companies

  3. While translation costs are a pain, they are a once-only pain. The real killers in the European system are the renewal fees, which vary from high to outrageous, especially after the ten-year mark, when they commence a steep climb into the stratosphere. The US patent system is an unspeakably awful travesty of a system, but it does have one good thing - once granted, a market of 300 million is yours for a total in renewal fees of $US7570, a pittance compared with even a middling EP portfolio, which is going to cost you over EUR50,000 for the 20 years. Out of curiosity, I once calculated the total renewal fees for the whole of the EPC contracting states, assuming grant at year 5. I can't remember what was the figure now, but I do remember it looking like the defence budget of a middle-sized European country.

    If you can find it, some months ago, "The Economist" did a nice article on this very subject, entitled "Smother of invention". The only way forward is a truly pan-European patent. No, I'm not holding my breath...

  4. To reply to the remarks in the articcle of Jeremy: The reason why italian is a language of the community design system is that Italy is the second biggest applicant for design creations.
    But think the italian would give up their language claims - as they have already done - in relation to the community patent if also Germany and France did the same.

  5. "Never again should it be possible for a British government to transfer power to the European Union without the say of the British people in a referendum" - David Cameron

    A UK referendum on patent law ... that will be entertaining!

  6. The reason for the so-called "three-language solution" (which in fact would end up being very much a "mostly English, with a sprinkling of patents in German and French" solution) is that it is the language regime already in place for the European patent up to grant, and would not require major changes to the EPC.

    National prides apart, there's thus a good argument for this as the KISS ("keep it simple, stupid") solution, merely building on the European patent. For an industry leader not to be aware of this, and to advocate the one-language solution (which has been put forward quite cynically by Spain and Italy with the obvious intent of driving the whole Community patent project once again into a cliff) shows an alarming ignorance of the issues at stake.

    I am a proud native Spanish speaker, and I also love Italian, yet I'm appalled by the successful manoeuvering by an influential, well-connected sector of the patent profession in those two countries to sabotage any solution that threatens what they see as their entitlement. Instead of this spoiling fight, they should pause to consider why Italian and especially Spanish currently carry so little weight in the patent world, because they definitely aren't the least of culprits. Instead of clinging to their privileges, they should start offering better advice and service to their homegrown clients, invest in training future patent attorneys, and address the screaming deficit of technically-qualified attorneys and IP experts. This is definitely much more in their national interest than insisting on translations of often abysmal quality that nobody ever reads anyway.

  7. Anonomous asked "Esperanto anyone" to which I agree should be the logical as well as long-term solution.

    It is a pity that a majority of people do not know that Esperanto has become a living language. In fact after a short period of 123 years Esperanto is now in the top 100 languages, out of 6,800 worldwide. It is the 17th most used language in Wikipedia ahead of Arabic and Danish. It is a language choice of Google, Skype, Firefox and Facebook.

    Native Esperanto speakers,(people who have used the language from birth), include George Soros, World Chess Champion Susan Polger, Ulrich Brandenberg the new German Ambassador to Russia and Nobel Laureate Daniel Bovet. The language is within the top 100 languages, out of all languages, worldwide.

    Your readers may be interested in the following video :) A glimpse of the language can be seen at :)

  8. I think it will be either nothing, either a "1+1"-solution (English + language of applicant).

    So 2, instead of 1 "authentic" text. Time for the Commission to swallow this pill through.


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