A planned redesign of the European patent system, announced last week (December 4th), could reduce the cost and strengthen the legal weight of European patents -- a change that biotechnology companies have long awaited.

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Currently, a European patent can cost companies up to 11 times as much as they would pay in the United States, while providing far fewer legal certainties. The existing patent system is simply a bundle of 4-6 national patents; applicants must choose the countries in which they most want their patent to apply, rather than receiving a patent that extends to all of the EU member nations, explained Ilias Konteas, a legal advisor to BusinessEurope, a group that represents EU companies. The bundled system "raises questions of legal certainty," said Konteas, because "you can have [contested] patents enforced by one country and not another." The new proposal would create a single patent covering all...

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