Norwegian Patents and European Norm

Norwegian Patent Office celebrates 100 years and looks out over its own borders

Bernd Ewald of the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry. (Photo: JE Stacy)

Bernd Ewald of the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry. (Photo: JE Stacy)

By John Erik Stacy 16 Oct 2011

Even as the Norwegian Industrial Property Office celebrated its 100th anniversary on October 12, the focus for policy makers is to unify and rationalize patent practice across national borders. Bernd Ewald is “the patent man” at the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry. He is Austrian born but moved to Norway in 1992 and brought with him his law degree from the University of Vienna and his love for Mari, his Norwegian fiancée who he met when she studied biochemistry at the same university. He did post-graduate studies at the University of Oslo where, among other topics, he studied Norwegian Maritime and Tax Law. He also studied Norwegian Language at a very advanced level and landed a position at the Ministry and has been one of its senior case-handlers for the last 12 years. Bernd, who married Mari and together now have three well grown children, spoke at length about changes underway in European patent practice and how these will affect Norwegian patenting processes and practice.

How does your work in Norway relate to European patent policy?
One of my tasks is to keep up to date on IP (intellectual property) policies in the EU [European Union]. At the moment they have one really large dossier, the so called Unitary Patent, which is going to be a derivative of the European Patent administered by the EPO [European Patent Office]. By expansion of the European Patent – US companies apply for loads of European Patents – it will be possible to give these patents “Unitary Effect” such that they will have the same effect across all of the states participating in the EPC [European Patent Convention].

Has Norway signed on to the European Patent Convention?
Norway is a full member of the EPC since 2008. The roots of the EPC go back to an agreement reached in 1972. The EPC is not directly part of the EU. It is a regional agreement between European states to install the EPO. After deliberating for more than 30 years, Norway went in. The EPO now has over 6000 employees, awards more than 60,000 patents per year and handles about 130,000 applications.

Why is the Unitary Patent important?
Ask the question “is patenting really only a game for big fish?” Now in the OECD’s innovation strategy it is specifically mentioned that young, innovation driven companies can be especially dependent on a single patent to attract investment and business partners. What exists now is really a bunch of national patents where every court in every member state can decide to uphold, partially uphold or nullify. There are some cases where national courts – even those in highly qualified nations – have made diametrically divergent rulings on a patent. The big players “play upon that piano” and do what is called forum shopping, which can “take the sap” out of smaller companies just because they lose breath over time. Under the Unitary Patent this will not be as easy. The real clincher to the plan is the proposed patent court system where one system of courts will find upon the validity and reach of these unitary patents with effect for all of the participating states. You will have one set of fees, not ten sets of fees and legal costs in each country with different outcomes. [The OECD is the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.]

So in the future a US company can apply to the EPO and receive patent protection in Norway?They would have to “validate” their patent in Norway after its issue from the EPO, which means they would have to provide a full Norwegian translation and pay a fee. But the patent would not be re-examined, and that is the important point.

Is it important for Norwegian businesses to seek patents that apply in Europe?
Norway is not only a furnisher of raw materials. But, also, in the petroleum industry, high technology is the norm. Petroleum related supply shipping is booming – there is still ship-building in Norway – especially the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) tanker ships [e.g. Golar]. The machinery on those ships is much more valuable than the body. After oil and gas is Information and Communications Technology. Telenor is in highly competitive markets in Europe and around the world. Patent protection across borders is particularly important for Norway to grow in the global knowledge economy.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 11, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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