This week in Europe… 10-13 December

European patent will boost UK businesses

Liberal Democrat MEPs have warmly welcomed Tuesday’s green light for the long-awaited deal on a unitary European Patent.

The European Parliament has voted to accept a hard-fought compromise package which has taken nearly forty years to negotiate. Two states, Spain and Italy, have declined to take part on the grounds that their languages are not included in the patent filing process.

Andrew Duff MEP, who represents the important cluster of science research in the East of England, commented:

Today sees a huge break-through for European innovation and competitiveness. The final agreement on a unitary patent will greatly reduce red tape and costs for businesses across Europe.

“The judicial system is complicated by the fact that two states have not joined in on the grounds of linguistic envy. But the ultimate authority of the European Court of Justice is assured, and we can expect the gradual growth of case-law which will build confidence in the unitary system.

“Those who fear that software developments will now be clobbered by excessive patenting by large firms can be reassured: software remains within the realm of copyright law.

“It is remarkable that British Green and UKIP MEPs have united in their opposition to this new EU patent system. One can only speculate as to what solution they have to the current fractured state of European intellectual property.”

MEPs vote to avoid budgetary EU crisis

A senior Liberal Democrat MEP has welcomed Wednesday’s deal to cut the 2013 EU budget proposal by EUR 5.1bn as a necessary compromise to avoid a budgetary crisis. Whilst stressing that he would have liked to see a freeze of the budget in real terms, a rejection of the deal would have threatened many important EU-funded projects in the UK.

George Lyon MEP, a Vice-President of the European Parliament’s Budget Committee, commented after the budget vote in the European Parliament:

It is good news that MEPs have defeated the proposed 6.8% increase in the 2013 EU budget and instead voted in favour of a EUR 5.1bn cut that reduces it to a near inflation rise. The original budget proposal was completely out of touch with current economic circumstances and the financial pain that people across Europe have to face on a daily basis.

Although the Liberal Democrats would have liked to see it go further to a freeze of the budget in real terms, the compromise deal was the only option on the table to avoid a budgetary crisis in the EU. Without a budget deal, highly valuable EU-funded projects across the UK would have been threatened.

Making airports work for you

On Wednesday the European Parliament gave its green light to new regulations governing the allocation of slots and the levels of noise at EU airports to maximise airport capacity, decrease delays whilst protecting people living in flight corridors.

With almost 800 million passengers a year travelling by air from, to or within the European Union, airports need to step up their game to avoid travel disruptions.

Commenting on the proposed airport package to alleviate the situation, Liberal Democrat European spokesperson on transport, Phil Bennion MEP, said:

Europe is in serious danger of losing a major slice of the aviation market due to the constraints of airport capacity. In many areas building new runways and investing in new airport infrastructures is not an option. A revision of the current system of slot allocation is a pragmatic and realistic response to maximise airport capacity.

We also need to combine these measures with better connections between rail and air travel and look into innovative solutions such as multi-hubbing and combined ticketing to make better use of our spare capacity at regional airports. Statistics suggest Europe will face a doubling of air traffic by 2030 and increased competition in the world aviation market from regions such as Asia and the Middle East.

Commenting on the proposals to noise-related operating restrictions, he continued:

“It is fundamental to follow a global approach that takes into account both the effect of noise on the quality of life of citizens and the importance of air services and aviation. We need to take action to phase out the noisiest aircraft for the sake of our citizens and at the same time give airlines certainty and continuity in the way we deal with noise at airports at the European level.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and News.


  • Alex Macfie 14th Dec '12 - 9:27am

    With the unitary patent, it looks like the European Parliament has ceded much of its control over the extent of patentability to the new specialised patent court; in this respect the EU seems to be making the same mistake as the US did ~20 years ago; there, the creation of exactly such a court led to a massive expansion of the scope of patentability, including the allowability of software and business method patents, because the court consists mainly of patent professionals who have a vested interest in the patent system itself. It is somewhat reassuring that Andrew Duff says that ECJ will still have ultimate authority. However, the easy availability of patents in the US has led to patent trolling on a massive scale (a recent survey indicates that over half of all patent lawsuits in the US now involve patent trolls) along with tech companies choosing to “compete” in the courtroom rather than in the marketplace. Only in the last few years has the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) started to rein in this rampant patent inflation.
    While it is true that UKIP tend to vote against everything just to be awkward, the position of the Green group was that the principle of a unitary patent is a good idea, but that this implementation is not, principally for the reasons I have just stated. As with some other EU rules such as the European Arrest Warrant, the EP seems to have been willing to compromise too far just for the sake of getting some law passed. The “Something must be done. This is something,” approach to lawmaking.

    On aviation, I can only repeat my mantra Make Better Use of the Channel Tunnel!

  • Simon Titley 14th Dec '12 - 11:39am

    Alex is right to warn of the dangers of patent trolling. There is a strong argument that ‘idea monopolisation’ is doing serious harm to the economy. See:

  • Alex Macfie 14th Dec '12 - 1:07pm

    It could have been worse. The European Council (particularly the UK government) didn’t want the ECJ to have any authority over the new patent court (I assume that is why what got passed is a “compromise”).

  • Paul McKeown 17th Dec '12 - 12:24am

    It is hard to believe how little heralded the European Patent with Unitary Effect has been in the British press. The only mention I noticed was in the FT. Of course, in comparison with the FT, even the broadsheets might as well be The Beano…

    For many small and medium businesses in Britain (and other EU states), the barriers to gain a patent and to enforce it will be greatly reduced, the cost savings will be very significant and revenue streams will be possible from patents in other European states that would have been difficult to pursue.

    Good piece of work by the EU.

    Spain and Italy will sign up soon enough, just after they have stopped sulking that their national languages are not primary languages for the new form of patent. I imagine that the acceding state of Croatia, the EEA states and Switzerland will all want to jump aboard quickly as well and there might well be demand from other states, too.

  • Alex Macfie 17th Dec '12 - 7:54am

    Sorry but no, it is not a “Good piece of work by the EU,” for the reasons stated. It remains to be seen whether the ECJ will prove effective in reining in the expansionist tendencies of patent offices, or whether, as in the US, it will take 25 years before any effective dampener on patent inflation is applied. Most victims of bogus patent suits do not have the time or resources to go through the courts to prove the patent invalid, and will settle even if they would ultimately win. Software and business method patents did not happen in the US due to legislation allowing them, but through jurispudence. There doesn’t seem to much in the new European Patent to prevent this. In IT in particular, innovation is driven by competition, not by patentability, and patents just get in the way.

    Also remember that holders of EU patents are as likely to be from outwith the EU as within it. This is not a matter of rules for Europeans, it is about rules for the European market. Most patent trolls are from the US, as the climate has been easier for them there for some time. This law may open the floodgates for US-based trolls to come here and suck money from innovative EU enterprises.

    Incidentally, I support the principle of an EU-wide patent. I can also accept that maybe what was passed was the best compromise that could be obtained, when many national governments wanted the EU patent to be completely above EU oversight. But if so, then we should say so, not claim that it was what we wanted all along, in the same way that Lib Dems in government should say that concessions represent hard-won compromises and that we would do things differently on our own. However, when our MEPs include Sharon Bowles as a representative of the patent industry, one must wonder whether they really do understand the concern of people who think patenting has gone too far.

  • Paul McKeown 17th Dec '12 - 11:36am

    “Patent trolling”, I understand it, is the exploitation of patent systems by large law firms on behalf of large companies with deep pockets, by generating unfounded law-suits, which, they hope, smaller companies will be unable to defend. You write some “stuff” about how making European wide patents easier will make “patent trolling” more common. I find your argument unconvincing. Patent trolling depends on the disparate willingness of two patent holders to go to court, based on ability to fund long legal proceedings. This form of corporate bullying can take place just as easily under 27 separate patent regimes as it can under a unified regime, defending one’s self is certainly easier if one only has to do so under one unitary patent regime.

    The European Patent with Unitary Effect does not address patent trolling. I cannot see that your arguments that it will make patent trolling more likely hold water.

    The European Patent with Unitary Effect is a good piece of work by the EU.

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