The European Parliament has voted to create a unified patent system for its member states, a big step forward in a debate that's been going on for decades. In three separate votes, members approved the unified patent itself, plans to accept patents in three languages rather than having them translated into all languages of member states, and a court system for the unified patent. If the patent system is ratified by at least 13 states (which have to include the UK, France, and Germany), it will take effect in January of 2014.

The unified patent is meant to make it easier to get patent protection across Europe, and it's estimated to cut patent costs by around 80 percent by eliminating the administration fees that must currently be paid in each country. The EU says registering a patent under the new scheme could cost roughly 4,700 euros ($6,100), rather than the current average of 36,000 euros ($47,000). If approved by the Council of the EU and ratified, the agreement would allow a single patent to cover 25 EU member states. It does not cover Spain and Italy, which have denounced the idea of a patent system that sets English, German, and French as the only official languages.