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The London Agreement: What It Means for U.S. Applicants

On 17 October 2000, the London Agreement was adopted at an intergovernmental conference of the member states of the European Patent Organization (EPO). It aims at substantially reducing costs for obtaining patent protection in Europe.

Under the European Patent Convention (EPC), the European Patent Office (EPO) administers the grant of patents for the member states of the EPC through a centralized administrative procedure. Because the patent rights themselves remain a matter of national law under the EPC, the grant of a European patent by the EPO creates a “bundle” of national patents, which must be separately “validated” in each country where protection is sought.

In order to “validate” the grant in a particular EPC member state, the patent owner is required to translate the European patent into the official language of that state. The EPO estimates the average cost of a single translated European patent to be approximately EUR 1400, putting the total average cost for translations to validate patents in all 35 EPC member states, representing some 25 different languages, at EUR 35,000. On average, however, patents are validated in only seven key member states, requiring translation into five languages, at an approximate cost of EUR 7000.

The London Agreement is aimed at substantially reducing these costs. Under the Agreement, any state that is party to the Agreement and has one of the three official languages of the EPO (German, French and English) as an official language agrees not to require the patent owner to submit a translation of the European patent into the national language. Among the national patent offices to which this provision will apply are those of France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg and Monaco.

For those states party to the Agreement that do not have German, French or English as a national language, no translation of the description will be required if the European patent is in the EPO official language prescribed by that state. These states may, however, request translation of the claims into the national language.

The EPO estimates that as a result of the changes made by the London Agreement, the cost of translations needed to validate patents in the seven key states will be reduced by about 45%.

It should be noted that accession to the London Agreement is optional, and not a condition of membership in the European Patent Organization. The Agreement will take effect on May 1, 2008 for those 13 states that have deposited their instruments of ratification or accession. Further information as to the status of membership in the London Agreement may be found at http://www.epo.org/patents/law/legal-texts/london-agreement/status.html. Additional information on the London Agreement may be found at http://www.epo.org/patents/law/legislative-initiatives/london-agreement.html and http://www.epo.org/patents/law/legislative-initiatives/london-agreement/key-points.html.

 

 


(21FEB2007)


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