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EU Patent & Patent Translations

January 27, 2010

This past December, the European Union took a major step towards creating a single Europe-wide patent system, which has been a goal of European ministers and patent officials for many years. Currently, the European Patent Office (EPO) does grant European patents, but these patents must still be converted into national patents in each of EU designated states, which is both expensive and laborious. The EU patent would solve this problem, and provide patent rights that are consistent across Europe.

In December, EU ministers made a big breakthrough in negotiations concerning the EU patent, agreeing to set up a single patent court for the EU. But the plan still has a long way to go, and for now, 27 EU governments are awaiting a legal opinion from the European Court of Justice and the input of the European Parliament before moving ahead.

What does this mean for patent translations? Since the London Agreement went into force in May 2008, most EU countries do not require translating a full patent into one of their official languages if the patent was drafted in one of the official languages of the EPO (i.e., English, French, or German). Several contracting states still require that the claims be translated into their official language, but do not require a translation of the description. The London Agreement has certainly reduced the translation costs involved in filing patents in Europe, which, according to the EPO, can account for over 40 percent of the overall filing costs. (For biotech and chemical patents, the translation costs can be significantly higher.) But the London Agreement—while it reduced the need for patent translation—did not solve the problem of high translation costs in Europe. Many EU states still have not signed the London Agreement, and as anyone who has filed a long patent application broadly across Europe knows, the translation costs can still be exorbitant, easily exceeding $100,000 when filing with expensive foreign associates. The EPO’s goal of a “post-grant language regime” where only claims have to be translated into national languages and the description can remain in English only still seems quite far away, and getting patent protection in the EU still costs 11 times as much as it does in the United States.

Obviously, an EU patent would supplant the London Agreement and could eliminate the need for any translations if the original application is written in English. Morningside will continue to closely monitor developments at the EPO and the EU as far as translations are concerned, in our continued efforts to reduce translation costs for our clients.