Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have voted for a new unitary European Union (EU) patent regime, which will cut the costs of EU patents by up to 80%.

After more than 30 years of talks, a series of three separate votes in the Parliament on December 11 approved the EU patent "package," which covers the unitary patent, the language regime and the unified patent court. In a compromise deal with the Council also endorsed by Parliament, costs for small firms are to be reduced and the regime tailored to their needs.

The current EU patent regime is "effectively a tax on innovation," said Italian MEP Raffaele Baldassarre of the Group of the European People's Party (EPP), who led the talks on the regime for translating EU patents. He also noted that Parliament had required the introduction into the regime of specific measures for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to fully reimburse their translation costs and ensure extra legal protection in the event of counterfeiting.

German MEP and chair of the Parliament's legal affairs committee Klaus-Heiner Lehne, who led on the international agreement setting up a unified patent court, said that "people in China are telling us that we cannot have a single market without a unitary patent." With the new regime, "a lot of obstacles for SMEs will be overcome," added Mr Lehne, who is also a member of the EPP.

The new patent will be cheaper and more effective that current systems for protecting the inventions of individuals and companies. The new regime will provide automatic unitary patent protection in all 25 participating EU member states, cutting costs for EU companies and therefore boosting their competitiveness, says the European Commission.

When the new system is up to speed, an EU patent may cost as little as 4,725 euros, compared to an average of 36,000 euros today.

Under the compromise deal, the Parliament's requirement that translation costs will be fully reimbursed for EU-based SMEs, non-profit organisations, universities and public research bodies has been agreed. Renewal fees, which account for a large share of total costs, will be also be set at a level that takes account of the special needs of small firms.

Welcoming the deal,  Michel Barnier, the European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services said: "the figures speak for themselves. In the US in 2011, 224,000 patents were granted, in China 172,000, while here in Europe only 62,000 European patents were delivered."

"One of the reasons for this difference is without a doubt the prohibitive cost and the complexity of obtaining patent protection throughout the single market. The new texts adopted open the way to simplified procedures and a reduction by one-seventh in the costs for our businesses of protecting their innovations in 25 EU countries," he added.

The international agreement creating a unified patent court will enter into force on January 1 2014 or after 13 contracting states ratify it, provided that the UK, France and Germany are among them. The other two acts will apply from January 1 2014, or from the date when the international agreement enters into force, whichever is the latest.

Spain and Italy are currently outside the new regime, but could decide to join it at any time, says the Commission. "I hope that Spain and Italy will join this new regime as soon as possible, so that this protection will be valid in all 27 member states," said Commissioner Barnier.

- Also on December 11, the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union called for Court to dismiss the actions brought by Spain and Italy against the Council's decision authorising enhanced cooperation in the area of the unitary patent.