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Monday, August 4, 2008

Technology in Europe, 06.2008

In this edition:
  1. Industry blames weak EU patent system for generic drug delays
  2. Reding calls for half of freed spectrum for telecoms
  3. G8 science ministers commit to more sustainable energy research
  4. EU innovation institute to start operations in Budapest

Industry blames weak EU patent system for generic drug delays

12 June 2008

A number of hurdles related to the weakness of the European patent system prevent innovation and competition in the pharmaceutical sector and hinder timely market entry of cheap generic drugs, argues a generic medicine industry report.

"The introduction of patent linkage presents the single biggest barrier to generic competition," said Greg Perry, director general of the European Generic Medicines Association (EGA), launching a reportexternal on patent-related barriers to market entry for generic drugs in the EU on 2 June 2008.

Patent linkage, which is not part of current EU pharmaceutical legislation, is the practice of linking market approval for generic medicines, as well as their pricing and reimbursement status, to the patent status of the original reference product. It prohibits granting market authorisation to generic drugs until all original drug patents have expired and it has been determined that the patents are not being infringed, invalid or unenforceable.

According to the EGA, the national medicines agencies, who decide on the authorisation, are under growing industry pressure to apply this complex practice, but lack clear rules on how to apply it. This obliges them "to make ill-informed judgements on complex patent issues that normally can only be determined in specialised courts". The EGA argues that the patent linkage "is inconsistent with European law" and must not become regular practice to ensure that "no hurdles exist to hinder the access of generic medicines to markets immediately upon patent expiry".

The report lists a number of other ways in which patents are used "to prevent innovation and competition rather than to stimulate the creation of truly innovative products". These include granting patents for "poor quality follow-on patents" created in quantities "in the hope that at least one of them will be granted and survive a litigation challenge". According to the EGA, this is to a large extent due to a lowering of the patentability requirements, in particular regading to their innovativeness.

Furthermore, the association argues that patent holders "abuse" the judicial system as they unduly delay solving patent litigation procedures introduced by generic companies in order to maintain the existing advantageous status quo. Altogether, these hurdles point to the legal and regulatory framework around the European patent system failures to ensure an "appropriate balance between incentives and competition". source

My comment:I'm not sure how this new ideas protect the rights of generic drugs producers. I mean, yes, obviously they are many problems with patents, but I didn't see a way to avoid delays as it happens in the USA. But the multiple patents system is just disgusting.

Reding calls for half of freed spectrum for telecoms

13 June 2008

Half of the radio spectrum freed by the switchover from analogue to digital should be allocated to mobile and telephone operators by 2010 to provide broadband internet to rural areas, Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding suggested to EU telecommunications ministers gathered in Luxembourg yesterday.

While the ministers gavePdf external their support to the Commission's proposalPdf external to make the use of spectrum more flexible "with the exception of services of general interest," Reding went further, making clear for the first time how the spare radio frequencies (the so-called "digital dividend") should be used.

Commissioner Reding's suggestion would have an impact on two key sectors that could change the European telecommunications landscape in the coming years: radio spectrum and next generation networks (NGNs).

Concerning radio frequencies, the proposal would please telecoms operators but would maybe find TV broadcasters less enthusiastic. So far the latter have had a quasi-monopoly on radio spectrum, excluding only public emergency services and military uses. But as new digital technology replaces the traditional analogue towards meeting a European deadline of 2012 (the so-called "digital switchover"), the same services can be provided with less spectrum.

Broadcasters will therefore free up some frequencies, but they are keen to get them back for the purpose of offering more advanced services based on increased interactivity. However, by offering half of the freed spectrum to telecoms operators, Reding is creating space for a new powerful actor in the radio spectrum environment.

The justification for this is the need for Europe to catch up in broadband internet penetration, so far lower than other advanced countries in the world, and on average in just 20% of households in the EU. Reding is making clear that wireless services are well placed to close this digital gap (see EurActiv 19/03/08).

This position was not to be taken for granted. Indeed, the debate in Europe is now being increasingly channelled towards the subject of NGN deployment. The new networks, based on optical fibres, are considered by many to be the most reliable technology to allow the spread of super-fast internet across the EU, necessary for a range of new services which are already a reality in other parts of the world. These include regular interaction and exchange of roles between users and content producers, video-conferences, eHealth applications, eLearning developments and so on.

The problem is that deploying the new networks requires huge investments and a regulatory framework able to guarantee certainty in the long term, which at the moment does not exist.

In a future in which the internet will be essential to everybody for basic activities, such making a phone call or paying taxes, the digital gap will become even more of a civil rights issue. "We have to work to close the digital divide otherwise we risk political problems," explained a Council diplomatic source.

The Commission's proposal goes in this direction and suggests wireless services to cover rural areas instead (but also alongside) of finding complex regulatory solutions to favour NGN deployment in less populated regions such as geographical segmentation, which has just begun in the UK and is under consideration by other countries, in particular Spain (see EurActiv 15/02/08). source
My comment: Well, I won't comment that since it's pretty straight-forward what I think on it. Internet should be a basic commodity just like electricity. That's a fact and we should deal with it.

G8 science ministers commit to more sustainable energy research

17 June 2008

The first ever meeting of G8 science and technology ministers highlighted the crucial role of science in resolving global issues. Ministers pledged to boost investment in R&D for environmental and clean energy technology and work together on new energy alternatives, such as fusion energy (ITER), carbon capture and storage (CCS) and next-generation biofuels.

Ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the United States) and the European Research Commissioner Janez Potočnik met on 15 June 2008 to discuss the role of international science and technology cooperation in sustainable development, in particular regarding reduction of CO2 emissions.

The ministers arguedPdf external that in the long term, making existing technologies more efficient will not be enough to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, "fundamental breakthroughs in science and technology will be essential" to pave the way towards a low-carbon society.

Ministers therefore "committed to increasing investment in both basic and applied environmental and clean energy technology R&D". In order to develop "new and sustainable energy solutions", they also pledged to boost international R&D collaboration on all possible energy alternatives, such as fusion energy (ITER), carbon capture and storage (CCS) and next-generation biofuels.

Regarding cooperation with developing countries and the current global food price crisis, the G8 ministers underlined that it is crucial to enhance agricultural productivity, improve the nutritional value of crops, better control plant diseases and restore and maintain soil fertility while at the same time decrease adverse environmental impacts of agriculture. In addition, ministers argued that "food security would also be improved by increased access to new agricultural technologies including biotechnology and post-harvest technologies". source

My comment: The important are the last 2 paragraphs. One of them mention ITER-the project of creating fusion on Earth (the way the Sun shines)-a project that is drastically under-funded. USA zeroed its funds for it for 2008, Canada opted out of the project. It's interesting they are mentioning it now.

The second interesting part is the nonsenses on agriculture that for me bear very significant Monsanto and Bayer mark. All those stuff about enhanced productivity and better control over desease are verses from the same song. And I don't like hearing it that often.

EU innovation institute to start operations in Budapest

Published: Thursday 19 June 2008

As expected, Hungary has won the unanimous backing of EU research ministers for Budapest as the seat for the EU's new innovation and technology institute.

The 27 European research ministers rubberstamped the decision to locate the headquarters of the EIT in the Hungarian capital during an intergovernmental conference on 18 June.

The meeting followed ministers' failed attempt to agree on the seat in late May, when Poland, which had hoped the city of Wroclaw would win the bid, vetoed the otherwise unanimously-backed candidate Budapest. But Poland was forced to give way after ministers agreed on a Slovenian presidency proposal to base the final decision on a 2003 agreement between EU leaders, giving priority for the new member states which do not already host a site or an EU agency.

Only Budapest fit these conditions. Poland already hosts Frontex, the EU border security agency, and the three other candidates for the headquarters - Sant Cugat del Valles near Barcelona, Vienna-Bratislava and Jena (Germany) - are not located in new member states. The Slovenian Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology Mojca Kucler Dolinar said the other bidders' needs would nevertheless be taken into account in the future.

The Commission presented the list of members it plans to nominate to the EIT Governing Board last week. The official nomination should take place in early July.

According to the Regulationexternal establishing the EIT, once the Governing Board is established, it needs to select and designate two or three Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) within a period of 18 months, thus by the end of 2009.

KICs will bring together departments of universities, companies and research institutes to form an integrated partnership to perform education and innovation activities in inter-disciplinary strategic areas, such as climate change, renewable energy and the next generation of information and communiation technologies. source

My comment: That's cool! I mean, Poland was way to nasty on this and I'm happy they showed it the finger! Go Teletubies, go!

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