It will now be possible to secure a single patent valid in up to 25 EU countries
One of the last pieces of the EU's unitary patent scheme fell into place late last week after the European Council agreed the locations of three unified patent courts.
The central court will be located in Paris, while specialist courts will be set up in London and Munich. The London operation will deal primarily in patent cases related to the pharmaceutical and life sciences sectors, while Munich will deal with mechanical engineering and related fields.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron hailed the decision, saying that it will "bring millions of pounds and hundreds of jobs" to the capital.
The decision marks the end of nearly 30 years' negotiation on EU patent reform that means it will now be possible to secure a single patent valid in up to 25 EU countries, making it both easier and cheaper for European business to protect their intellectual property.
For example, instead of parallel litigation in national courts, IP holders will be able to get a decision for all states where the patent is valid from a single court.
"Europe is falling behind the US and China in number of patents granted," said Michel Barnier, Commissioner responsible for internal market and services.
"The new rules, once in place, will increase the potential for inventions and innovation within the European single market and reassert Europe's competitiveness," he added.
Earlier estimates of the cost of achieving patent protection across all 27 EU member states have put the bill at more than 30,000 euros, compared to just 1,850 euros in the US.
Welcoming the decision, the chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), Stephen Whitehead, said it was "confirmation of the confidence in the UK's capacity to deliver in life sciences and the strong commitment of the UK government to our sector".
Despite all the positive statements being issued on the agreement, there are those who believe the new patent system itself is flawed.
IP law specialists Marks & Clerk noted that a key sticking point in the negotiations was the issue of allowing appeals to be made to the European Court of Justice, which the UK had resisted fiercely on the grounds that it could introduce unwarranted complexity into the system and delay verdicts.
Last week, Cameron threatened to veto the process if the ECJ was not stripped of its jurisdiction over the reformed system, and appears to have won the concession.
However, Marks & Clerk point out that "it is not at all clear that the Council of Ministers can insist on this or that the Commission will agree or what, if anything, would take the place of the deleted articles".
"It is quite possible that the UK has signed up to a blank cheque, or the very regime it was threatening to veto not more than a few hours ago," said the law firm's chairman Keith Hodkinson.
Meanwhile, not all EU nations are on board with the scheme. Spain and Italy are still not participating in it because they maintain that having English, French and German as the official languages for the new system puts Spanish and Italian companies at a disadvantage.
They had proposed either that Spanish and Italian should be included among the official languages, or that English should be the single reference language, but this was rejected by the Commission.