Patents are moving from an isolated specialist area of law to center stage in the global political economy. Patent policy today is a matter of public debate with holds profound implications for innovation, economic growth, health, communications, and the generation, management, and dissemination of knowledge.

In Europe, there is unresolved controversy over software patents and the inability to reach political consensus on the community patent, EPLA, or other approaches to integrating the European patent system. However, debate among scholars, stakeholders, practitioners, and the public has provided insight into how the patent system of the future should look. Recent economic research raises questions about the relationship of patents to R&D in some fields, and there is growing concern about how SMEs can participate in a costly system.

While policy initiatives in Europe have momentarily stalled, debate in the U.S. over how to reduce the extraordinarily high costs and risks of patent practice has divided industry and thwarted needed reforms. Aspects of the U.S. patent system that were once offered as a model for European policy have come under scrutiny and criticism. Europe can now learn from the changing experience with patents in the U.S., as well as individual experience and experimentation within its national patent systems. Europe can benefit from the professionalism of the EPO, even though its expansion of subject matter in the direction of U.S. practice remains controversial. With its multiple and parallel patent systems and diversity of economic interests, Europe is abundantly motivated to reengineer the patent system for a rapidly changing world.

To advance, patent policy must move beyond ideological debates and political maneuvering. In line with the ideals and expectations of democratic governance, it must be institutionalized in a form that fits within the larger policy framework of promoting knowledge, innovation, and economic growth across Europe – and around the world. If Europe succeeds in this enterprise, it can provide legimate international leadership based on best practice – not just self-interest and economic clout. This requires policy development that is evidence-based, sensitive to the range of technological and business conditions, and oriented to produce optimal results.

The European Patent Conference (EUPACO) is a forum for exploring and debating these issues. It brings the diverse stakeholder and disciplinary perspectives needed to test new ideas and thinking about the future of the patent system – and an opportunity for European leadership on issues that are very heart of the knowledge economy.

The upcoming EUPACO conference in Brussels on 15-16 May will examine the following challenges:

  • Measuring the benefits and costs of patents
  • Diversity in innovation and the implications for a responsive patent system
  • Assessing and managing risks of patent assertion and defense
  • Integrating economic and legal approaches to patent policy
  • Patent politics, the politics of integration, and the challenge of institutional transformation and design
  • The multiple dimensions of patent quality: problems and solutions
  • Innovation policy: patents, standards, public services, and public research
  • Patent principles for an information society
  • What went wrong?: lessons from U.S.