On September 26, 2007, the London Agreement was adopted by France’s National Assembly. The French Senate is set to vote on the agreement this month. If ratified, the cost of perfecting patent protection in at least some European countries could be greatly reduced.

European Patent Applications must be filed or translated into one of the official languages (English, German or French) and patent prosecution proceeds in that official language. Upon allowance (or grant), the claims must be translated into the other two languages. After grant, the application must be validated in individual member states (countries). Under current procedures, the entire application, including the claims, must usually be translated into the language(s) of the country(ies) where the patent is validated. According to the European Patent Office (EPO), translation requirements can increase the costs of obtaining a European patent by about 40% or more.

Under the London Agreement, translation costs may be significantly reduced. The agreement will still require translation of the claims into the three official languages upon grant. However, in countries that ratify the London Agreement, validation will no longer require translating the entire application into the native language. Instead, each ratifying country will select one of the three official languages and the patent will issue in that language The agreement allows a country to require translating the claims into the native language.

In countries that ratify the London Agreement, costs for patent holders will be reduced by:

  • Eliminating translation expenses
  • Eliminating publication fees
  • Reducing attorney fees

To date, Germany, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Monaco and Slovenia have ratified the London Agreement. Sweden and Denmark are also expected to ratify the changes soon. Although the requisite number of countries have ratified the agreement, the final approval of France, as one of the key states for its entry, is still required for implementation. Validation of a European patent in countries that have not ratified the agreement (for example Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Turkey and others) may still require translation of the entire patent. Thus, although adoption of the London Agreement will result in savings, significant translation costs are still possible. Hopefully, these countries will ratify the agreement as well. Because implementation of the London Agreement is imminent, it may be advisable in some cases to delay patent grant and avoid significant translation costs. This can be done, for example, by delaying filing responses to examination reports until near the deadline. If allowance is likely, it may also be beneficial to delay into the further processing period allowed under European procedures. For applicants that have already received a notice of grant, it may be advisable to delay payment of fees and filing of translations as long as possible, and possibly use the further processing procedure for further delay. With a little luck, the agreement will go into effect before expensive translations are required.