Unifying patenting procedures could boost innovation, the EU says
European ministers say they have agreed on a plan to introduce a common EU-wide patent system that could save companies millions of euros.
Sweden's foreign ministry says industry ministers reached a deal on the main elements of the EU patent and setting up a single European Patent Court.
The European Commission says the cut in legal fees could save European firms up to 289m euros (£259m) annually.
Many firms currently face high costs in the EU for patent litigation.
The plan still has a long way to go, however. The 27 EU governments are awaiting a legal opinion from the European Court of Justice and the plan will also have to be discussed by the European Parliament.
The European Commission, which drafts EU legislation, warns that "the creation of the EU patent will depend on a solution to be found for the translation arrangements, which will be the subject of a separate regulation".
According to the Commission, getting approval for a patent in just 13 EU member states is currently 11 times more expensive than obtaining a US patent.
Sweden, current holder of the EU presidency, described Friday's agreement as a "political breakthrough" after years of negotiations.
The Commission first proposed a regulation for an EU patent back in August 2000.
Sweden's Trade Minister Ewa Bjoerling said the EU patent would "make it much easier and cheaper to protect innovations in the EU".
"This will give European industry better opportunities to compete on the global market," she added.