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December 11, 2012 2:22 pm
Even elephants, with one of the longest gestation periods, give birth within two years. By contrast, a European patent – single intellectual property right valid throughout the European Union – has been four decades in the making. Finally, though, approval by the European parliament on Tuesday means the new IP baby has arrived.
Inventors will be able to apply for this pan-EU IP right next year, instead of having to seek, and then validate, a bundle of national patents. That could cut an inventor’s outlay to under €5,000, compared with over €35,000 for the same geographical coverage at present. And it could close some of the cost gap with the US: once follow-up fees to maintain protection are included, patenting in the EU, over 20 years, is reckoned to be 20 times dearer.
This belated progress is all the more welcome given Europe’s dismal research record of late. The region now absorbs under a quarter of the world’s R&D spend, down from almost 30 per cent in 1995. Business R&D spend in Europe has stagnated at about 1.2 per cent of output during the past decade. That compares with more than 2 per cent in the US and even higher figures in South Korea and Japan. China is also catching up fast.
Patent costs, of course, are only one factor in this malaise, and the new instrument is far from perfect. It will not cover Italy and Spain, for example, and the biggest beneficiaries may be multinationals seeking broad geographical protection – half the top 10 filers at the European Patent Office last year were non-European – rather than small local inventors.
Investors may feel this has little to do with them. But IP is all too easily overlooked, until it blows up into expensive litigation. How often do European bosses outside the pharma industry proudly announce that the R&D line will be rising by such-and-such percentage next year? Time for far more attention.
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