The EC today intimated that progress has been made toward developing an EU patent agreement - a dream of statesmen across Europe for over 30 years.

Gunter Verheugen, vice president of the European Commission, told journalists he was "slightly more optimistic" about breaking the deadlock that has thwarted efforts for an agreement.

At the beginning of this year the Commission said it was making one final effort to push through legislation that would pave the way for one single patent system, with one litigation procedure involving a single patent court for the whole of the union.

The last attempt was made in 2000 but member states squabbled over what languages the EU patent should be translated into and there's been gridlock ever since.

In October 2000 some countries proposed an interim solution, dubbed the London Agreement, to break the deadlock over languages.

The agreement would excuse countries with English, German or French as their official languages from having to translate patents at all. Other countries would have to issue their patents in the local language, plus one of the three official languages of the EPO (European Patent Office).

France is the only country to have signed up to the London Agreement so far. Alain Pompidou, president of the EPO, who was attending the press conference with Verheugen, urged politicians to hurry up and ratify the London Agreement.

"The London Agreement shows the way for the Community Patent, which we all want to see," Pompidou said.

In January the Commission opened a three-month consultation period, seeking views from industry and the worlds of science and academia. The consultation finished at the end of last month and the Commission is examining the written responses it received. It will host a hearing in July to discuss the issues raised in the consultation.

Verheugen said no date has been fixed for the ratification of the London Agreement. Despite expressing some optimism that it will happen he warned that some countries in the union are contemplating breaking off from any multinational efforts.

"Some countries want to roll back the responsibilities of the European Patent Office to national level," he said, adding that he is "concerned" to hear some countries consider such an idea.

"Business needs more Europe in this regard, not less," he said.

The EPO receives around 160,000 applications and awards patents to around 60,000 inventions each year. According to Pompidou, around half of the applicants come from outside Europe. Companies based in the US apply for more patents than companies from any other country, followed by Germany, Pompidou said.