Language barriers cause discord in the EU

17:18, July 14, 2010      

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Language barriers among E.U. nations are causing disagreements in the European Union at present.

In order to reduce the expensive cost of translating patent applications, improve the scientific and technological innovation and economic development in the E.U. countries as well as improve their competitive strength, the European Commission proposed English, French and German as the official languages of the "common patent system" of the European Union in the beginning of the month.

However, the proposal was not good enough for Italy and Spain, who opposed the "three language system" and proposed that Italian and Spanish should also be included in the official languages of the European Union common patent system.

Language translation is very labor-intensive work that the European Union has to face every day.

Currently, there are 27 member countries in the European Union and they organize various meetings and publish vast amounts of documents every year.

As there were 23 official languages before, it was conceivable that the translating work of meetings and documents was very heavy. The European Union has a specialized translation agency employing a large number of translators. Therefore, the annual expenditures on translation services are huge.

The patent applications in the European Union also involve the issue of language translations. The European Commission revealed that due to multi-language translation, the patent applications are very costly.

Statistics show that because the patent reports should be translated into one language, it will cost 75 to 85 euros per page on average.

If a patent report has 20 pages, it will cost at least 1,500 euros to translate it into one language. The high costs of patent applications discourage enterprises, especially small and medium-sized enterprises in the European Union who wish to obtain patents, thus greatly reducing the competitiveness of the European Union.

Michel Barnier, an official of the E.U. internal market, revealed that in response to the request of Italy and Spain, the European Commission has again proposed that the full text of the patent report translated into English, French and German, then the contents defining the scope of patent protection will be translated into Italian and Spanish. However, this proposal was also refused by the two countries.

In order to resolve the squabbles, some suggested a one-language regime using only English, but Barnier said that 48 percent of applications to the European Patent Office are in French or German. Furthermore, given the strong opposition of France and Germany to the one-language regime, it is simply impossible to use English alone.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, who favors the trilingual regime, recently defended the regime at a press conference held by the European Parliament and expressed his hope for the common patent system to make progress as soon as possible.

According to Spanish media reports, Barroso replied to questions about the trilingual regime at that conference by saying that this was not a linguistic beauty contest and the priority is to find a cost-effective workable solution in the interest of European business. He said that European patentees cannot tolerate such sky-high applications fees anymore, and it is time to lower the high fees, which have hindered a large number of innovative products from coming out.

According to sources, the new proposal would be passed only if it was accepted unanimously by all 27 member states.

Spanish media groups reminded the public that the proposal was put forward on the first day after Spain handed over the European Union's rotating presidency for the first half of 2010, but Barroso told reporters that it had nothing to do with Spain's opposition.

By People's Daily Online


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