The Unitary Patent: A Simplified Approach to European Innovation Protection

What is the Unitary Patent?

The European Unitary Patent (UP) is a system that provides a single application process to secure patent protection in several participating European countries. It is a new route to patent protection in Europe, that came into effect on June 1, 2023.

The establishment of the European Unitary Patent system also requires a unified court system called the Unified Patent Court (UPC). This court has jurisdiction over disputes related to both traditional European patents and unitary patents in EU member states that participate in the system. It offers simplified and more efficient legal procedures. The Unified Patent Court consists of decentralized courts of first instance and a court of appeals located in Luxembourg.

Unitary patents coexist with national patents of member states and traditional European patents. For countries not covered by the UP system (e.g., the UK, Switzerland, Turkey, Norway, Iceland, Spain, Poland, and Croatia), patent protection can still be obtained through national patents or by validating European patents in those countries after authorization.

What is the Difference between European Unitary Patent and Traditional European Patent?

Firstly, it’s important to note that the European Unitary Patent doesn’t replace traditional European patents entirely. Instead, it’s an additional option for applicants. After it came into effect, the European Unitary Patent will exist alongside national patents of various countries and the current traditional European patent system. The main differences between the unitary patent route and the traditional route are:

1. Coverage Area

The traditional route requires separate procedures for each country in which the patent is to be enforced. It includes 44 countries, 39 EPC (European Patent Convention) member states (27 EU member states and 12 non-EU countries), one extension state, and 5 validation states.

39 member states of the European Patent Organization: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, Finland, France, United Kingdom, Greece, Croatia, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Monaco, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia, San Marino, Türkiye. One extension state: Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Five validation states: Morocco, the Republic of Moldova, Tunisia, Cambodia, and Georgia

The unitary patent route allows a single application to cover all participating member states. Unitary patents are protected in all countries that have approved them and are recorded by the European Patent Office. This currently includes 17 countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, and Sweden.

If additional countries join the unitary patent system later, the protection of an existing unitary patent will not automatically extend to these new members. Validation in these countries would still need to be done individually within three months of authorization by following traditional procedures.

2. Application Procedure

Before the European patent is granted, the application procedures for the unitary patent route and the traditional route are essentially the same. However, once the European patent has been granted, the applicant has two enforcement options.

Traditional Route: Within 3 months from the publication date of authorization, proceed separately in each designated country to complete enforcement procedures, thus enabling enforcement within each designated country, known as the traditional enforcement route.

Unitary Patent Route: Within 1 month from the publication date of authorization, request unitary patent protection from the EPO. The result is unified enforcement across all participating countries, granting uniform protection, known as the unitary patent route.

What are the Advantages of the Unitary Patent?

The benefits of the unitary patent system include reduced enforcement costs, unified annual fee payments, and a single patent translation requirement.

Validation

There are no additional fees for validating a unitary patent. However, under the traditional European patent route, different fees need to be paid according to the regulations of each country where the patent is enforced. Therefore, one of the benefits of the unitary patent system is cost savings

Renewal

There is only one single renewal request to maintain the patent in all participating nations. Traditional European patents require paying different fees to the patent offices of each country where they are enforced, and even the timing of annual fee payments varies. If there are many countries where the patent is enforced, the entire patent maintenance process can become very complicated.

Translation

A traditional European patent must be translated into the official languages of all countries where protection is sought, which can be a considerable expense. The unitary patent system reduces this burden by requiring fewer translations, thereby lowering the barriers to entry for inventors.

Reduced Enforcement Costs

Enforcing a patent across multiple countries can be expensive under the traditional system. It often involves separate legal actions in each country. The unitary patent allows for a unified approach to enforcement, making it easier and more cost-effective to protect intellectual property rights across Europe.

Conclusion

After the unitary patent comes into effect on June 1st, 2023, there will be three main ways to obtain patent protection in Europe. The unitary patent system represents a significant step forward in simplifying intellectual property protection throughout the European Union.

By reducing the complexity, time, and cost associated with obtaining and maintaining patent protection in multiple countries, the unitary patent offers a more accessible and efficient option for inventors. It is crucial to understand the impact of the Unitary Patent system on your existing patent strategy. Within our international patent practice, we have a professional team to help. For any further information, please contact us, and we will be happy to support you.

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