In this series we will explore some of the difficulties surrounding trademark and patent protection in different parts of the world.

Doing business in Europe is exciting, fascinating, complex and challenging.  The integration of 27 member states into the European Union (EU) and the creation of the Euro in 1999 has helped to standardise many policies and systems, but it is of course a fallacy to think of “Europe” as a single entity. Each nation has its own unique culture, languages and idiosyncrasies, and it is hard to change centuries-old traditions overnight.

While obtaining trademarks and registered designs on a European level has become fairly straightforward, patent protection is another story.  For the many New Zealand companies that seek European patent protection, the creation of the European Patent Office (EPO) in 1977 helped as well as hindered the patent process.  The EPO does provide a single patent application procedure across its 38 member states, but does not yet have the power to issue patents that are recognised within individual countries.


Once the European patent is granted by the EPO, individual applications still need to be filed and validated in local language, using local patent attorneys.  The costs involved are significant (as much as NZ$3000 per country).  Also, simply getting to the grant stage can be surprisingly long (up to 10 years) due to a major backlog in EPO examination. These costs and delays are often underestimated by New Zealand companies.  It is estimated that establishing patent rights in half of Europe costs 10 times more than it does to obtain the same protection in the USA, and businesses need to carefully examine the cost-benefit ratio.


Over the last decade talks have been in progress to try and streamline the EPO process and try to move towards a granted European patent that does not require the validation step.  The last chapter in the debate occurred in late 2010 as member states held negotiations in Brussels to work toward creating a true Europe-wide patent process.  But talks broke down as holdouts Spain and Italy were unhappy that English, French and German would be the three official languages.