What is the EU Unitary Patent?

The EU Unitary Patent will soon come into effect.  When it does, it will become a centralized system to obtain a single patent registration that covers many European countries.  It is a new type of patent that will be available to inventors and businesses located both inside the European Union and outside of it.  It is designed to make the patent system in Europe more efficient, streamlined, and cost-effective.  The Unitary Patent is expected to launch on June 1, 2023.

Currently, there is no European-wide patent protection available.  Although patent applicants can file for a European patent, that is actually a centralized application that allows the applicant to validate or extend approval into European member countries.  In that process, a patent applicant files a European patent application, examines it centrally through the European Patent Office – hopefully receiving a European patent grant – and then pays for validation into individual member countries.  Once that happens, the patent applicant owns patents granted in each of those member countries.

The pre-grant phase of the EU Unitary Patent will actually remain essentially the same.  Applicants will still file with the EPO and examine the application centrally through the EPO.  Once the European patent is granted, the applicant will be able to request unitary effect, thereby creating a Unitary Patent that provides uniform protection across member states.

Currently, 17 member countries will participate in the Unitary Patent on June 1.  They include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, and Sweden.

17 countries in the Unitary Patent
17 member states for the Unitary Patent

However, 25 member countries will cooperate to provide enhanced protection, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Sweden.

Unitary Patent 25 Countries
25 member states for the Unitary Patent

The EU Unitary Patent will be accompanied by a new court system, called the Unified Patent Court (UPC), which will handle disputes related to Unitary Patents.  The UPC will have jurisdiction covering all EU member states that have ratified the UPC Agreement, and it will have exclusive jurisdiction over disputes relating to unitary patents.

We expect the EU Unitary Patent will reduce the costs and complexity of obtaining, enforcing, and maintaining patent protection in Europe.

Currently, a large part of the costs of obtaining patent protection in Europe are the post-grant costs for validating the European Patent into the member countries in which protection is needed.  Under the Unitary Patent, those fees will be gone.

Renewal fees are tagged to the most expensive countries’ fees, so holding a Unitary Patent is likely to be cheaper than holding several individual patents in European countries.  Multiple translations will also no longer be required after an initial period, so the costs of translations will be reduced.

There are some limitations to the Unitary Patent.  As can be seen in the maps above, it won’t be effective everywhere in the European Union or Europe.  It will not cover plant patents or certain types of software and business methods.  It also won’t allow for reduction in maintenance fees; because a single maintenance fee will be due (rather than multiple maintenance fees for individual countries), there will be no opportunity to reduce your expenses by dropping some countries – it will be an all or nothing cost.

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