The London Agreement was concluded in London on 17 October 2000 and signed by ten Contracting States to the EPC in order to reduce the cost of securing European patents. To enter into force, the London Agreement must be ratified by at least eight Contracting States, including the three where the most European patents took effect in 1999: France, Germany and the United Kingdom (Article 6 of the Agreement). With the exception of France, these pre-requisites were fulfilled some time ago in that the the Agreement was ratified in the required States. On 9 October 2007, the second chamber of the French Parliament eventually approved the ratification bill with a clear majority. The London Agreement will therefore enter into force on the first day of the fourth month after deposit of the final instrument of ratification, expected to be in the first half of 2008.
After the London Agreement comes into force, inventors and their companies will have one less obstacle before they can fully pursue the commercial prospects of their inventions internationally, namely the translation of the text of the European patent into the official language of each State in which they seek to validate it. Even if the exact figures vary, according to information available from the EPO the costs for an “average” patent (with 20 pages to be translated and translation costs of about €70 per page) will vary (depending on the number of Contracting States to the EPC which are of interest to the applicant) from about €7000 (for 5 translations) up to about €30.000 (for 22 translations). These costs are of course a factor strongly influencing the applicant’s decision as to where to validate a granted European Patent.
In practice, the different translations of a European Patent became relevant in just a minor number of cases. Additionally, in case of a dispute over the infringement of a European patent in a State, ultimately the legally binding version of the European patent will still be the version in which the EPO granted the patent (unless interim rights were established due to a flawed translation into the national official language). Against this background, the London Agreement was initiated in order to reduce the costs of European patents by parties to the Agreement agreeing to waive, entirely or partly, the requirements for translations of European patents to be filed in their national languages.
The patent must, however, still be available in one of the three official languages of the EPO, namely English, French or German and the claims will still need to be translated into the other two official languages. An inventor or a company which decides to validate a European patent only in States which have an official language in common with the EPO, will in the future not need to prepare a translation of the patent specification. The remaining parties to the Agreement which do not have an official language in common with one of the official languages of the EPO will acknowledge European patents for their territory if the European patent was granted in an official language of the EPO prescribed by that State or translated into that language. Depending on the State of interest, at most, three translations will be necessary in the future for protection in all States party to the Agreement. This second group of States will, however, continue to have the right to require that a translation of the claims into one of their own official languages will be supplied. Additionally, the States party to the Agreement may prescribe that in case of a dispute relating to a European patent, the patent proprietor shall supply a full translation into an official language of that State.
The London Agreement will apply to European patents in respect of which the notification of grant was published in the European Patent Bulletin after the Agreement entered into force for the State concerned.
Thus, the user of the European Patent Convention will be spared the high costs relating to the translation of European patents as soon as the London Agreement comes into force – at least in the States presently party to the Agreement and having ratified the Agreement. The advantages will be
- Significant savings in translation costs;
- No publication fees for translations;
- Reduced patent attorney fees; and
- An inclusive solution - three languages instead of single-language solution such as "English only"
Therefore, the London Agreement will be a major step towards a cheaper European patent and it is important for the future success of the Agreement that as many Contracting States to the EPC as possible sign and ratify the Agreement.