London agreement on translation of patents set to be ratified within months after France drops its opposition

Patents valid across many European countries will soon be much easier and cheaper to register, with the coming into force of the so-called London Agreement. 

The agreement simplifies the translation requirements for patent applications filed with the European Patent Office. It was negotiated by EU member states in 2000, but has been in limbo ever since because of France’s refusal to ratify it. 

However, since the election of the new government earlier this year, ministers have signalled that France maybe ready to back the deal. Finally, in August, Prime Minister Fran?ois Fillon announced that the country was set to go ahead with ratification. The French parliament is now expected to pass the agreement in its next session beginning on 18 September - allowing it to come into force three months later.

The deal means that companies filing for a European patent will no longer have to translate the entire patent into the official language of every European country for which patent protection is required. Instead, they need only produce a full version in one or more of the three official languages of the European Patent Office - English, French or German. Countries that do not normally use any of these languages will have to nominate one of them as their accepted language for patent applications. 

French opposition to the London Agreement has mostly come from nationalists’ ’legitimate wish to defend the use of our language’, said government ministers Valerie Pecresse and Jean-Pierre Jouyet in a statement. But they stressed that the resulting translation costs were pushing the average cost of a European patent to 27,000 euros (?18,500) - far more expensive than the 10,000 - 15,000 euros it costs for an American or Japanese patent. ’It is a waste of time and money,’ they said. 

French scientists working on chemical and biotechnology product development are delighted with the ratification. 

Didier Jammes, head of intellectual property at Paris-based Cisbio, which makes diagnostic test kits for drug development, said, ’For R&D-driven companies such as Cisbio, which files patents on a regular basis, this agreement will benefit us significantly in terms of saving time and money.’ 

Laurent Levy, chief executive of Paris-based drug development firm Nanobiotix, also welcomed the deal. ’We believe this will simplify the process of getting patents all over Europe, in terms of procedures, time and cost,’ he said. ’Patent extent will be the same over Europe, which will be an advantage in a future unified market, and the ability to prosecute patents could also be improved.’ 

"We believe this will simplify the process of getting patents all over Europe, in terms of procedures, time and cost" - Laurent Levy

The pharmaceutical industry association EFPIA said the ratification was ’a step in the right direction that will reduce the cost of patent applications.’ Patent translations currently represent 40 per cent of the initial cost of obtaining a patent, according to Ann Robins, EFPIA’s legal affairs manager. 

She added that France’s movement on the issue would be particularly beneficial because EFPIA does not expect much progress for either the unitary Community Patent - which would allow applicants to get a single patent valid across the whole EU - or the European Patent Litigation Agreement, which aims to cut the costs of litigation by creating a European Patent Court. 

Peter Mitchell