The European Parliament gave its consent on Tuesday for a common EU patent system using a seldom-used political procedure called enhanced cooperation to break 40 years of deadlock on the issue.

Last December, twelve member states made a request to launch such a procedure after it was concluded that all could not agree on an EU-wide patent system. Parliament gave its backing today and the Council of Competitiveness Ministers is expected to formally adopt the decision authorizing enhanced cooperation in early March.

European member states have been trying to agree on an EU-wide patent system for decades but the necessary unanimity has proved impossible to achieve. Language issues have long been a stumbling block to progress. Currently, national patents can coexist alongside a European patent (issued by the European Patent Office, a non-EU body) but the system is complex and expensive.  A European patent can be 10 times more expensive than a comparable US patent.

A unitary patent system, abolishing differences between member states over patent rights, would make it easier and cheaper for inventors to protect their patents throughout the EU, help tackle infringements and create a level playing field for Europe’s innovative businesses.

A number of ACT’s European members offered their favorable assessments of today’s  vote.

Michael Setton, founder of Sensaris:

“Robust and accessible protection for our creations is vital to encourage innovation. With the current patent system, my business is limited in its ability to fully market its products.  Without a strong, unified European patent system, small business firms such as mine are inhibited in working with larger companies.  We want to work with major corporations, but we need the protection of a single patent system behind.”

French technology company Sensaris develops wireless sensor network solutions. Its products are already used in 15 different countries and in the summer of 2010 equipped an unmanned automobile navigating across Europe to Asia, with real-time Internet-based environmental monitoring equipment. Michael holds 2 patents and has 3 pending.

Brian Deane, Irish entrepreneur:

“In the past, we have patented our products in the US because it is easier than in Europe. We hope that the enhanced cooperation system will help make filing European patents a cost effective and realistic option for us. But we need other measures to truly boost innovation. For instance, in the light of the recent difficulties the Irish government has decided to remove the tax break on royalties earned from patents and inventions. This is a backward step and will definitely impact on R&D. Tax efficient royalty revenue was a great boost for Universities and other incubation colleges. When it comes to innovation, we need all the support we can get.”

Mike Sax, ACT Chairman:

“I am glad to see that Europe is evolving from a culture of protecting innovation through secrecy to a culture of sharing and licensing of products and ideas. It is crucial for Europe to remain competitive and stand as a global technology leader.”

Mike Sax was born in Belgium and moved to the US searching for a better environment for innovation.  Mike founded businesses focused on software development, health and wellness management, and entertainment. has become one of the world’s leading developers of iPhone applications.