Slow progress in updating the legal regime for creating European patents - especially as regards biotechnology inventions such as GM foodstuffs - has been attacked by the European Council.

The EU#;s highest decision making body – meeting in Stockholm, Sweden – called on the European Commission and Member States to speed up work on the patent system, which would enable European bio-tech companies to obtain pan-EU legal protection for their inventions. The Council also ordered the Commission to examine ways of boosting the European biotechnology sector's competitiveness.

It also said that Member States and the European Parliament should ensure that the final decision to establish a European Food Authority is taken before the end of this year.

By Keith Nuthall, correspondent