Observers have been reflecting on the recent decision by European leaders to adopt a unified patent system, something that has taken over 30 years.

Until now, businesses had to secure and defend patents in each of the European Union's 27 member states, and tackle 23 official languages) in sharp contrast to US companies which only have to deal with a single system. Discussions have been going on for years but it seems there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

At a two-day EU summit at the end of last week in Brussels, leaders agreed on the creation of a European patent scheme, a move that was welcomed by many, including the European Patent Office. The latter's president, Benoit Battistelli, said "the simplification of the existing patent system will bring particular benefits to small and medium-sized enterprises and to innovators in universities and research centres". The EPO added that the adoption of the unitary patent "will replace the requirement for national validation procedures with a single step to reduce costs and dramatically simplify the present cumbersome method of obtaining access to patent protection in Europe".

London to handle pharma patents

EU leaders agreed to split the seat of a new patent court between Paris,  Munich and London. The UK capital will handle patents for pharmaceuticals and life sciences, which should account for about 30% of cases.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who was instrumental in preventing a proposal to give the European Court of Justice (ECJ) final jurisdiction over the patent court, was congratulated by Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry for "bringing the court to the UK against intense European competition". He added that "this is welcome confirmation of the confidence in the UK’s capacity to deliver in life sciences and the strong commitment of the UK government to our sector".

Mr Whitehead added that “the pharmaceutical industry is strongly in favour of a high quality system for settling intellectual property disputes and has been very engaged in discussing the proposals as they have developed. We look forward to our continued involvement in designing the system we need".

EU Parliament not convinced

However, enthusiasm for the project has been dented after developments this week which have seen the European Commission and the European Parliament question the move. The latter reacted to the proposal to remove the articles giving jurisdiction to the ECJ by postponing its vote on the draft law.

Rowan Freeland, an IP partner at lawyers Simmons & Simmons, said there are a number of issues with which potential users will need to familiarise themselves about a unified patent in the months to come. The framework "still has numerous deficiencies, which will mean that many will want to opt out and observe how the court beds down before committing valuable patents to an untried system", he added.

However, "at least the deficiencies will now be dealt with by judges with expertise in patent law and a will to make the system work", Mr Freeland said. With regards to London, he noted that given the amount of patent litigation in the life sciences sector and its importance to the economy here, he described it as being a "good outcome for UK industry and patent practitioners alike".