From 1 January 2017, Belgium has relaxed the requirements for validating a granted European patent – it is no longer necessary to provide a translation of a European patent for it to take effect in Belgium. Since translations have always been one of the more expensive aspects of securing patent protection in Europe, this can only be a good thing.
Belgium is only a small country but it is relatively wealthy, with a GDP just outside the top ten of European countries. Perhaps more importantly, Belgium is home to Antwerp, Europe’s second largest seaport, and so patent protection in Belgium can be helpful in stopping infringing articles entering the European market.
In order for patents granted before 1 January 2017 to take effect in Belgium, it has been necessary to deposit at the Belgian Office for Intellectual Property a copy of the complete patent specification in one of Belgium’s official languages – French, German and Dutch. It has always been straightforward to provide such a document for European patents prosecuted in French or German, but the majority of European patents are prosecuted in English.
What this has meant is that most applicants have had to obtain a full translation into French or German for protection in Belgium. Since the London Agreement came into force in 2008, it has not been necessary to provide French or German translations in respect of the French, German, or Swiss national validations and the Netherlands has only required claims to be translated into Dutch. Thus translations into an official language of Belgium have not automatically been available and so the marginal increase in validation costs when choosing to additionally validate in Belgium has been relatively high in the past few years.
This is set to change. It will no longer be necessary to deposit such a translation for any European patent granted after 1 January 2017, and the costs of validating in Belgium should come down.
But, with the unitary patent on the horizon and intended to replace national validations for a number of European countries including Belgium, is this change too late to be of any real value to users of the EP system?
In answer to this, we note firstly that the unitary patent system has not yet started. The UK’s Brexit vote in 2016 has stirred up a lot of uncertainty as to whether it can or will begin soon. The UK Government’s official line is that the UK is working to bring the UPC into operation as soon as possible, but some Brexit campaigners are vigorously opposed to it. Secondly, applicants will still have the option of obtaining protection via national validations outside of the unitary patent system for at least a transitional period of seven years.
Therefore, there looks to be a considerable window in which the reduction of validation costs in Belgium will be valuable, even if the unitary patent eventually replaces validation in Belgium.
This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.