Introducing the European Unitary Patent System
- The EU has introduced the Unitary Patent and Unified Patent Court (UPC).
- Patentees can obtain a single “unitary” patent valid across all participating EU countries.
- A single action before the UPC can replace multiple parallel proceedings before national courts.
- 17 EU Member States are participating in the new system, with more to come.
What is the Unitary Patent?
Traditionally, granted EU patents are validated in each EU Member State of interest. Businesses had to navigate complex a patchwork of national patent laws, procedures and costs.
The new Unitary Patent is a single patent title, initially covering 17 EU countries accounting for around 80% of the EU’s GDP. Further EU countries are expected to join the system and the ultimate goal for the Unitary Patent is to provide EU-wide coverage.
The new Unitary Patent System is intended to provide a one-stop-shop for the registration and enforcement of patents across Europe and can reduce costs, paperwork and administrative burdens for innovators and SMEs alike.
Which EU countries are participating in the Unitary Patent system?
Below are the 17 participating EU Member States, along with those intending to participate. It is worth noting that the UK and Spain are not participating.
Intending to participate
- Czech Republic
How do I apply for a Unitary Patent?
The first step involves filing a European patent application with the European Patent Office (EPO). The EPO examines the application and if the outcome is positive, a European Patent is granted. This process exists today and will be familiar to European patent holders.
Within one month from grant, the patentee may request the EPO to grant unitary effect for the participating EU Member States.
Within three months from grant, the patentee may also validate the EU patent in additional countries not covered by the Unitary Patent system (e.g., the UK) per existing validation procedures.
An annual renewal fee is payable to keep a Unitary Patent in force. The fee is about the cost of renewing three to four individually validated national patents. As such, the Unitary Patent can provide significant cost savings, particularly if many EU Member States are to be covered.
What is the Unified Patent Court?
Traditionally, national courts have decided on the infringement and validity of European patents. Parallel litigation in multiple EU Member States can be costly and invites divergent decisions and legal uncertainty.
The new Unified Patent Court (UPC) has been set up to deal with the infringement and validity of European Patents and Unitary Patents. Significantly, a single action before the UPC will replace multiple parallel proceedings before national courts, obviating costly parallel litigation and inconsistent rulings across EU countries.
Advantages of the new Unitary Patent System
Annual renewal fees for a Unitary Patent correspond with renewing individual patents in just four EU Member States. The Unitary Patent represents cost savings for patentees seeking protection in numerous EU countries. Additionally, a Unitary Patent can obviate the need for separate validation in each EU country, thereby eliminating local patent office and attorney fees.
Patentees can use the UPC to seek relief for infringing activities in all participating Member States, as opposed to on a per-country basis.
Cases before the UPC will be resolved quickly, with judgements passed within a year. The UPC also intends to hear trials in just one day.
English will be the primary language of the Unitary Patent system. For businesses in English-speaking countries like Australia, the UK and the US, there is a clear advantage in litigating in English. This applies to all UPC hearings, eliminating the need for costly translations.
Instead of validating and renewing a granted European Patent on a per-country basis, businesses can simply maintain a single Unitary Patent with a single renewal fee. This means fewer deadlines, administration, and associated costs.
To validate or unify?
Your particular patent protection strategy for the EU will depend on various factors including the specific and number of EU Member States of interest and the likelihood of any patent disputes.
Many businesses with a significant commercial presence in the EU will likely employ a mixed strategy involving both a Unitary Patent and national validations in non-participating countries such as the UK and Spain.
To discuss whether the Unitary Patent system would be beneficial to your patent protection strategy, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.