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EU Approves Unitary Patent

by Ulrika Lomas,, Brussels

17 December 2012

After the European Union (EU) member states endorsed the regulations in their recent Competitiveness Council meeting, on December 11 the European Parliament approved the package of legislation to introduce a unitary patent, its language regime and the Unified Patent Court (UPC).

It was back in 2000 that the European Commission (EC) made its first proposal to create a EU unitary patent. Although that effort was stalled, it re-launched negotiations in member states after a consultation in 2006, and, in April 2011, tabled proposals in the framework of enhanced cooperation.

A unitary patent will allow patent protection to be obtained for 25 member states (all of them apart from Italy and Spain, although they would be able to decide to join in at any time) on the basis of a single application and without further administrative formalities, like validation and translation requirements, in the member states.

Patents will be made available in English, French and German. Applications will have to be made in those three languages, and, if made in another language, they will have to be accompanied by a translation into one of them.

The fact that unitary patents will be treated as a single patent, no longer requiring to be administered nationally in each and every state, should lead to massive savings in terms of time and costs, and should make Europe more attractive for innovation and investors, bringing it on a par with its competitors in Asia and the US. The EC has said that an EU patent may cost just EUR4,725 (USD6,170), compared with an average of EUR36,000 needed today.

The UPC will be competent to handle disputes concerning both future unitary patents and current "classical" European patents. It would be a single specialized patent court, with a local and regional presence around the EU. Instead of parallel litigation in national courts, parties would be able to get a swift decision for all European countries where the patent was valid.

The agreement creating the UPC will enter into force on January 1, 2014, or after thirteen contracting states ratify it, provided that UK, France and Germany are among them. The other two acts establishing the unitary patent and its language regime should also apply from that date, and the European Patent Office (EPO) expects to validate the first unitary patent in April 2014.

"The EU is to be congratulated on this decision, which clears the way for the completion of the European patent system with a unitary patent and a UPC, which we have been waiting for in Europe for 40 years," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli. "Cutting the costs of patenting inventions in Europe will strongly benefit European enterprises, especially research centres and small to medium-sized enterprises.”

The European Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services Michel Barnier pointed out that, “in the United States, in 2011, 224,000 patents were granted, in China 172,000, while here in Europe only 62,000 European patents were delivered. One of the reasons for this difference was without a doubt the prohibitive cost and the complexity of obtaining patent protection throughout the single market. The new texts adopted open the way to simplified procedures and a reduction by one-seventh in the costs for our businesses of protecting their innovations.”

TAGS: court | business | patents | European Commission | law | intellectual property | agreements | legislation | regulation | European Union (EU) | Europe

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