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Unitary Patent A Threat To Small Business

ComputerWorldUK - Simon Phipps - A short article in today's Independent on Sunday looks uncritically at the single European patent and thinks the new patent rules coming in Europe will help small business. The article seems to start from the idea that patents are good, thus more patents are better. But consider this statement from the article:

"If a company believed its patent was being infringed in Germany and France, it could defend its rights in the court in London, receiving a judgment that would apply to Germany and France."

That cuts both ways. A small British company could find itself subject to court cases it can't understand in countries it can't afford to defend itself. Any patent holder in any one of the 27 EU countries can go to a local court and get a judgment in any one of the 23 official languages. Once Cable signs this agreement, the UK government agrees a judgment like this is enforceable against any UK business.

Such judgments could well become a huge business opportunity - but not for genuine innovators. It's likely we'll see companies whose only business is to own patents springing up in unlikely European jurisdictions, "trolling" innovative small businesses who can't afford to defend themselves across Europe. Faced with the threat of costly international litigation, most small businesses will just fold, settling out of court regardless of the merits of the case.