European Parliament votes for a unified patent scheme

European Parliament in Strasbourg MEPs voted for the unitary patent system at the European Parliament in Strasbourg

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Euro MPs have voted to introduce a unified patent system.

The system would allow inventors to register their innovation with a single European Union (EU) authority rather than in each of its 27 member states, and is designed to save time and money.

There would also be a unified patent-court system. The move is due to be introduced in 2014.

But Spain and Italy continue to oppose the change, saying the new regime would discriminate against their languages.

The new rules would say applications and approvals need only to be made available in one of three languages, English, French and German.

At present, applicants are spending thousands of pounds translating their paperwork into each country's native language.

Italy and Spain suggest that as a result "commercial trade in innovative products will be favoured for undertakings which work in German, English or French".

But a senior adviser to the European Court of Justice has advised that it reject their plea. A panel of judges has still to consider the case.

Software patents

MEPs debated the European patent.

Eurochambres - an organisation that represents EU countries' chambers of commerce - called the vote in favour of the scheme a "breakthrough".

"[It] will significantly reduce administrative burdens and boost European innovation," it said in a statement.

However, April - a French free software-advocacy group - has warned the move could open the door to software-patent litigation on a scale recently seen in the US.

It says the European Patent Office (EPO) has shown itself willing to grant thousands of software patents - and worries the EU could end up with a system in which appeals against such judgements are decided according to the EPO's own rules.

"MEPs voted in favour of a legally uncertain system that does not not provide any checks and balances against threats to innovation such as software patents," said spokeswoman Jeanne Tadeusz.

"The European Patent Office will gain amazing powers, even though its governance has been highly criticised, especially with regard to its practice of granting software patents, against the letter and the spirit of European patent law."

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