Joff Wild

At a press conference held earlier today in Brussels, Portuguese justice minister Joao Tiago Silveira, said that “significant progress has been made” in discussions about the development of a unified patent system for Europe.

Explaining Portugal’s approach during the six months it has held the EU presidency, Silveira stated that the intention has been to find consensus on a structure for litigating patent disputes and then gradually begin talking about what remains the highly contentious issue of the Community patent: “A discussion will continue on the subject of creating a unified patent litigation system and, as soon as possible, the [patent] working group will start a discussion on the Community patent." Significantly, the French have come out publicly in support of this approach. "We first wish to have a legal system before we go for a Community patent. We think if we mix the two, we won't reach a solution," the country’s European Affairs Minister, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, said.

The Germans are less happy, however, with an official from the Economics Ministry saying: “It should be a package. This is not the breakthrough that we want." Others also remain wary, with the Spanish reported to remain opposed to any moves that will see a diminution of the role of national languages – a position they have held consistently for a number of years. The Portuguese, however, are upbeat. “We want to have quick progress... I would be optimistic," Silveira said. Talks are expected to continue during the six months the Slovenians hold the EU presidency, with "some specific results" to follow when the French take over in July 2008.

The above is a summary of a longer report on the press conference released by Reuters. It seems to confirm what I had suspected – that things are currently moving along quite nicely. The Portuguese have done an excellent job in building momentum, while the Germans, although not happy, are working within the limits set by the French, who have gained considerable traction following the decision to ratify the London Agreement on translations. Behind everything, I suspect, is the knowledge that the leaders of Europe’s big three – France, Germany and the UK – have identified patents as being of significant importance. It is amazing what can happen when the political big guns get involved.

Of course, things are far from settled: there will be many vocal and well organised groups in Europe that will protest vigorously against anything that smacks of a single patent jurisdiction. But what seemed unimaginable just 12 months ago, can now, at least be said to be conceivable. We live in interesting times, as the Chinese are wont to say.