The European Parliament [official website] on Tuesday agreed to the establishment of a common patent system [press release] despite lack of accord from Spain and Italy. EU member states have attempted to establish a uniform patent system for several years, but a unanimous vote was unobtainable due to disapproval from a few member countries. The Lisbon Treaty [text] generally requires a unanimous vote from EU member states, but the "enhanced co-operation" [EU backgrounder] provision allows groups of member states to adopt new common rules when unanimity is difficult to achieve. Lawmakers argue that a uniform patent system is necessary [Bloomberg report] to keep European nations competitive with global rivals like China by lowering patent costs for small businesses in particular. Spain and Italy refuse to participate [BBC report] because Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier [official website] insists on using English, French and German as the sole official languages of EU patents. The Council of Competitiveness Ministers [official website] is expected to adopt the decision authorizing "enhanced cooperation" in March. The European Commission [official website] will then submit its legislative proposals.
The EU has applied the "enhanced co-operation" provision in only one other resolution. In January 2010, the EU employed the provision to enable some EU countries to work together to create uniform marriage laws [JURIST report] for mixed-nationality couples on the grounds that cross-border divorces are often problematic. The measure, supported by 10 countries [BBC report], was passed [press release] under enhanced-cooperation.