The European Commission has launched a public consultation on its plans to create a European Union-wide patent system, intended to spur research and development growth in the bloc.
The Commission has unveiled a consultation questionnaire, open to all businesses and individuals, to discuss the idea of a Community patent, as well as how the current patent system could be improved.
It also wants feedback on how member state patent systems could "work more closely in line with each other" until the Community-wide system is introduced. The Commission suggested mutual recognition of national patents could be one way of doing this.
The move is part of the Commission's drive to raise research and development levels in Europe.
Charlie McCreevy, internal market and services commissioner, said: "Good intellectual property rules are essential: by stimulating innovation and leading to the successful development of new products, they help to generate and grow jobs."
The Community patent, the Commission has argued, would help to reduce costs for firms and create a better climate for research.
The Commission, last October, said industrial property, which includes patents, was one of its seven major cross-sectoral policy initiatives for improving the competitiveness of EU industry.
Several reports in the last year have been critical of research and development levels in the EU.
Low spending on developing new products and processing techniques was making EU food firms vulnerable to increasing global competition, according to a report this month by the Confederation of Food and Drink Industries.
The bloc's spending on research and development (R&D) remains lower than in other economies when expressed as a percentage of output. The figure is known as 'R&D intensity'.
Even though the amount spent on R&D in the EU rose by 20 per cent between 1997 and 2001, it accounted only for 0.24 per cent of output in 2001, far beyond the average of 0.35 per cent of its main competitors, the CIAA stated.
Patents, however, are unlikely to be the only answer and, if anything, research shows some investors and firms are valuing them too highly.
Specialists at the Inno-Tech institute in Munich's Ludwig Maximillian university have shown that the ratio of book value to market value for companies' intangible assets has declined dramatically from 1:1 in 1978 to 1:7 in 2000.
This means that any misplaced value on the books is getting amplified by a factor of 7 in market valuation.