In a series of votes today, the MEPs supported the latest proposals put forward by the Cyprus Presidency and rejected amendments that would undermine them. The key vote was passed by 484 votes to 186.
The vote came a day after the plans were also approved by the EU Competitiveness Council.
In a separate development, Advocate General Bot at the Court of Justice of the EU proposed that Italian and Spanish challenges to the enhanced cooperation procedure implementing the unitary patent be rejected.
The CJEU decision in that case is expected early next year. There is speculation that if it follows the Advocate General’s opinion, Italy will fall into line meaning the unitary patent will cover 26 EU states.
Unitary patents will be examined and administered by the EPO, in the same way as existing European patents. At the point of grant, applicants will be able to designate them as unitary patents instead of designating individual states. This is designed to lead to simplification as well as significant savings in the costs of validation, translation and renewal.
Speaking after today’s vote, Commissioner Michel Barnier welcomed the backing of what he called a “dynamic compromise” saying it would make patenting in the EU “more simple and less expensive”. He also stressed that it was still open to Italy and Spain to join the system.
Earlier, MEP Klaus-Heiner Lehne described the plans as “a huge step forward for SMEs” and said the unitary patent project was one of the most important projects in this parliamentary term.
MEP Bernhard Rapkay added: “Whoever votes against this package today is playing with fire. They are playing the big business card against SMEs.”
But during a two-hour debate this morning, many MEPs spoke against the plans, and urged more discussion on the unitary patent. Some favoured less involvement of the EU institutions in the proposed system, and some favoured more.
The patent package consists of three elements: two regulations creating the unitary patent and the language regime, and a treaty setting up the unified patent court.
The treaty is expected to be signed by heads of government at a meeting next February. It must then be ratified by 13 member states, including France, Germany and the UK, before it comes into effect.
Barnier said he is optimistic that the first unitary patents will be granted in spring 2014. However, there are extensive transition periods before the court system fully comes into effect.
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