The biggest companies in tech don't want to see Europe turn into yet another dangerous patent battleground. In a letter sent to European officials today, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and a slew of other tech giants write that they're worried about the effects that upcoming reform to the European Union's patent system will have. The reform will create a unified patent system across all of Europe — rather than having discrete systems within each country — and the companies are concerned that patent trolls will easily be able to take advantage of this and accrue increasingly large settlements over otherwise small disputes.
The letter focuses in on two main concerns
The letter, which is also signed by Samsung, Intel, BlackBerry, HP, Yahoo, and eight other parties, notes two specific ways that patent trolls could take advantage of the new system. First, the companies are worried about the guidelines governing when an injunction — an order barring a product from sale — can be issued. They write that because injunctions will apply to the entire EU now, rather than just a single country, that they'll be even more devastating tools when used by patent trolls to hold up products simply as a way to gain licensing fees.
The companies' second concern is over a rule that would allow patent cases to be decided in two parts, with one court deciding whether a patent has been infringed, and another court deciding whether that patent was valid in the first place. The companies say that this would allow potentially invalid patents to be used to obtain an injunction, and that this would "undermine" innovation through Europe. "We believe that these concerns can and should be addressed through targeted changes to the proposed [Unified Patent Court] rules of procedure," the companies write.
The unified patent system won't go into place until at least 2014, and even then, only if the plan is ratified by enough member states. And plans for how exactly the Unified Patent Court will operate aren't yet set in stone either. A committee is still working on its exact implementation, but it should have plenty of time to consider the concerns of the letter's signatories, which are certainly hoping not to have to deal with the same patent litigation struggles they're already facing in the US.