Could EU patent plans benefit British businesses?

Few patent cases have caught the headlines as much as the fiercely contested patent-wars: a series of on-going legal battles currently being fought in courtrooms around the world by global technology companies. The impact of such cases could soon be significantly reduced on businesses trading in Europe, following plans to launch an EU-wide patent: a universal patent which would be applicable to all member states.

The stakes in the patent wars are high. Apple, Google, Samsung and many others are pursuing multi million pound claims and counter-claims against each other. Indeed, it may seem almost like a 21st century equivalent of Jarndyce v Jarndyce, but perhaps the cases go some way to understanding the importance of protecting a company’s intellectual property.

In Europe, it was necessary for the plaintiff to lodge separate cases in a number of countries, but the need to do this could soon become a thing of past.

Plans to introduce an EU-wide patent, have been debated for more than 40 years, but following a ruling in December, the EU patent has broadly been given the go ahead and could come into effect as soon as 2014.

Under current proposals, a single EU patent could be granted in 25 of the 27 EU member states – with just Italy and Spain presently opting out of the agreement. The fine details of the proposals have yet to be confirmed, meaning there could be further legal wrangling and possibly even a delay before the plans come to fruition.

Patents, registered design and trade mark rights establish legal ownership and help to deter others from stealing or reproducing your ideas. Trade marks offer protection against businesses from using your company names, brands and logos, while registered designs protect the appearance of your products.

Patents are granted for a patentable invention. This can relate to either an entirely new concept or an improvement upon something already in existence, but it is vital that the invention possesses something that is new, not obvious and is capable of being applied industrially.

The creation of a standard EU patent is a move likely to be welcomed by inventors and businesses alike – and should disputes arise, a single ruling could provide significant benefits to British businesses. However, it is worth remembering that if your company trades outside of the EU, then separate applications in the non-EU countries will continue to need to be filed.

In the first instance it is always advisable to speak to an intellectual property expert who will be able to discuss the different options available to help protect your business and offer advice on the best course action for your business.
Howard Lock is a patent and trademark attorney and owner of Howard Lock Intellectual Property.

To find out more about how Howard can help your business tel: 0114 218 0653 or
Twitter: @howardlockip
Facebook: /howardlockip

This article appeared as part of the Sheffield Star Industrial Survey, 2013

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