European Journal of Law and Economics

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 47–70 | Cite as

Linguistic justice in IP policies: evaluating the fairness of the language regime of the European Patent Office



Alternative intellectual property laws relating to the use of languages in IP organisations can result in an asymmetric distribution of costs of patenting between innovators. We present a framework for the characterisation and evaluation of the fairness of the language regime of the European Patent Office (EPO), which is currently based on three official languages: English, French and German. We estimate that the costs of access to patenting procedures borne by English-, French- or German-speaking applicants are at least 30 % lower than those borne by European applicants whose first language is not one of the current official languages of the EPO. In order to correct language-related cost asymmetries, we explore two possible alternative language regimes. In both cases, we introduce a centralised system of financial compensation that covers translation costs borne by European applicants whose first language is not one of the official languages of the EPO. In the first alternative, financial compensation is covered by savings on current translation costs at the granting stage. In the second alternative, the number of official languages is increased to five and financial compensation is funded by an increase in filing fee and by partial savings on translation costs at the granting stage. We show that both alternatives could substantially reduce language-related costs asymmetries among European applicants. In addition, we show that the five-language alternative would reduce the global costs of access to patenting procedures borne by all European applicants. Thus, more multilingualism can be cheaper than less multilingualism, provided that “implicit costs” are taken into account. We conclude discussing under which conditions the alternative language regimes proposed could have a positive impact on the effectiveness and the cost-effectiveness of the EPO language regime.


European Patent Office European patent Translation costs Fairness Patent information Language policy Linguistic Justice 



Cross-lingual information retrieval


European Patent Convention


European Patent Office


London agreement


Machine translation


Patent libraries


Patent cooperation treaty


Small and medium enterprise


World intellectual property organisation


Intellectual property

JEL classification

H40 H89 K11 O30 O31 O34 O38 O39 O52 P48 Z18 Z19 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut für Finanzwissenschaft, Wirtschaftswissenschaftliche FakultätHumboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany
  2. 2.Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques (IRIS), ParisParisFrance

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