Efforts to establish a Europe-wide patent system were stepped up yesterday after it emerged that EU innovation was failing to catch up with the United States.
The European Commission has launched a consultation with industry across the EU to get their views on how a unified procedure would operate.
The move comes after the Commission reported last week that the US and Japan were still far ahead of the EU in the innovation stakes.
The EU invests about a third less in research than the US, and Japan was fast leaving Europe behind, it said. The research was based on factors such as the number of science and engineering graduates, youth education, research spending, venture capital levels, employment in high-tech services, and the number of patents.
According to the Commission, a single patent for all 25 EU countries could slash the huge costs of patent registration in Europe - currently averaging about £35,000.
Much lower costs in America, where patent registration averages less than £10,000, are cited by business leaders as one of the reasons behind Europe's slower rate of innovation.
European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy said the consultation process was necessary to establish intellectual property rules that were good for industry.
"By stimulating innovation and leading to the successful development of new products, patents help to generate growth and jobs," he said. "We want to maximise these benefits in Europe by making the single market for patents a reality."
Business leaders have until the end of March to present views to the commission. The results will form part of a hearing in Brussels in June.