Patent Translations and Languages of the European Union

In 2009, companies in the United States received the European Union’s decision to require patent claims to be translated only into English, German, and French with joy. Spain and Italy have strong objections, and even under the enhanced cooperation procedure, which should overrule their veto power, it’s not clear when the political stalemate is going to break. For the time being, companies still have to assume the costs of translation, validation, and enforcement.

Intellectual Property Protection

As a result of the E.U.’s decision, many U.S. companies are giving preference to those European states where no further translations are required after a claim is granted. Institutional language battles usually amount to zero-sum games in which a participant’s gain is balanced by the losses of the other, instead of cooperation games where everybody has something to gain. Southern European countries will be better off, and their languages will improve in their standing, if the E.U. fosters its links with the U.S. and, above all, manage to become more innovative themselves.

Proportion of the world's patents. Image from

Proportion of the world’s patents. Image from

Patent Translation

The European Patent System is more expensive than other patent systems, mostly due to translation requirements. In the “Survey to the Users of the European Patent System”, published by the European Commission, translation costs represent a heavy burden for 77% of respondents. There is unanimity on the fact that, to replace a system of national patents with a single European patent, a significant reduction beyond the current benefits generated by the London Agreement should be provided.

Patent Statistics

Patents reflect a country’s ability to transform knowledge into economic gain. Eurostat considers both Italy and Spain as “moderate innovators,” which is a polite way of saying that they are below the Union’s average. Over the past few years, the statistics reveal that Spain performed well in tertiary education and in life-long learning, but it scored poorly in innovation expenditures. More importantly, the country was above average in transforming innovation into intellectual property, but below average in transforming such inputs into applications.

Science, Technology and Innovation

These facts mean that at least some decisions about how to spend money and what to do with knowledge should be reconsidered. Based on 25 indicators for each country, the European Innovation Scoreboard (EIS) has revealed “a general convergence towards the E.U. average,” but the gap between head and tail will still not be closed in the next 30 years. Why should anyone want to let language pride stand in the way? Languages rarely benefit from institutional help, and never from institutional quarrels.