Correspondent's Choice

This story about patent translation was published by EurActiv on 2nd July 2010.

The move is designed to make translation costs 20 times cheaper and promises to bring to a close a long-running language dispute which has scuppered efforts to streamline Europe’s expensive patent system.

However, the decision to examine and grant patents in the three languages currently used by the European Patent Office (EPO) could cause friction with Spain and Italy who are unhappy with the preferential treatment given to English, French and German.

EU internal market Commissioner Michel Barnier said he had earlier proposed a “five-language solution” but this had been blocked by Spain, which held the rotating EU presidency until the end of June 2010.

Barnier noted that English, French and German are working languages of the EU and the EPO. He said that at present, 48% of patents are field in French or German, with the remainder presented in English.

“I didn’t invent the working languages of the European Community or of the EPO which has been working with three languages for 30 years,” he said.

In an effort to quell disquiet, the EU executive is proposing a special arrangement for member states where German, French and English are not official languages. Inventors from these countries will have the option of filing applications in their own language and having the cost of translation into a working language of the EPO reimbursed.

Barnier said the proposal “strikes the right balance” between pragmatism and linguistic pluralism.

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