What is the European Patent Conference?
The European Patent Conference (EUPACO) is an FFII initiative aimed at bringing together diverse opinion in a constructive dialogue that addresses the issue of a new European patent system. EUPACO aims to:
- Bring together diverse and representative legal, economic, and industrial opinions.
- Study the problems and issues with the current European patent system.
- Analyse proposals such as the EPO's EPLA draft.
- Build new proposals for an EU patent system based on wide consensus.
- Implement these proposals by working with EU policy makers and legislators.
As we enter 2007, the European patent system is in crisis, with serious and worsening issues of patent quality, litigation costs, and legal certainty. Different ideologies attempt to explain the causes of the problems, and advance solutions. The FFII argues that the patent system needs better regulation, and that software patents and patent thickets are a barrier to free trade and innovation. The patent industry argues that lack of clear rules make a proper market in IP impossible. Large-scale patent holders seek legal certainty for their patent investments. Patent-specialist firms argue that IP licensing is an under-exploited market. The EU Commission argues that the patent system does not safeguard the interest of patent holders sufficiently, and has promoted an EPO initiative for a new harmonized litigation system (EPLA).
Despite the many different viewpoints, commonality emerges, especially from producing industries (software, telecoms, pharmaceuticals), and from consumers of software, telecoms, and medicines, who ultimately pay the cost. Patents must be part of a balanced system of rights. Low-quality patents and patent thickets create problems for the incremental advances that drive such industries. The patent system should serve industry, not tax it. National courts play an important role in regulating the patent industry. A new European patent system should be an EU institution and should fall under proper democratic control. EPLA, the main EPO/Commission proposal, would move the EPO outside EU oversight, and although it contains some possibly useful elements, needs critical review.
EUPACO takes the form of a series of public conferences, starting with a small conference in Munich on November 25, and a one day conference in Brussels on January 24. We plan a further set of conferences and workshops, in Brussels and elsewhere, to drive the process forwards. EUPACO will be backed by a collaborative wiki.
EUPACO is a collaboration managed by the FFII EUPACO workgroup in collaboration with sponsors and participants. Legal responsibility for the collaboration rests with the FFII. Where possible, conference materials and on-line contributions will be licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License v2.5.
The European Patent Litigation Agreement
EPLA is proposed by the EPO and Commission as an "interim" step on the way to a Community Patent. On 25 Oct 2006 the Commission said, "Intellectual property rights (IPRs) is typically the core asset of many companies and the source of their competitive advantage. […] Europe urgently needs a clear and coherent legal framework for IPR protection fit for purpose in the 21st century. […] The adoption of a cost-effective Community Patent is the most important step. In the meantime, in order to lift a significant barrier to innovation, the Member States and the Commission should together make the existing patent system more efficient by improving the means for litigation through aCommunity instrument. […] The Commission has embarked on a wide-ranging review of IPR policy as a whole, and will propose concrete steps towards a modern and affordable framework before the 2007 Spring European Council."
The FFII's analysis of Commission studies, consultations, and task forces shows that most of the strong pro-EPLA argumentation comes either from the EPO itself, or from a small number of patent experts. Little support has been expressed by industry or academia, partly because the consequences of the EPLA proposal are not immediately obvious.