The EPO has adopted what it refers to as a business friendly fee pattern for the fees payable for unitary patents. The Select Committee of the Administrative Council of the EPO endorsed the "True Top 4 proposal" tabled by the European Patent Office on renewal fees applicable to the unitary patent. This proposal corresponds to the charges for renewal in the Top 4 most popular validation jurisdictions: Germany, France, Great Britain and the Netherlands (the alternative had been the "Top 5" approach which included Swedish designations). There is provision for a reconsideration of this Top 4 basis after 4 years. The EPO commentary states that " this decision clears the way for other final preparatory measures for the unitary patent".
For more comparative detail on fees see the "Comparison of fees and external costs between a European Patent and a Unitary Patent", submitted by the President of the EPO to the Select Committee to assist in their deliberations, which compares the costs of registering EPs in 1,2,3,4,5,6 or 7 designations and all 25 designations that would be covered by the UP under current participation rates) with the cost of the revised proposal. The comparison assumes that grant is in year 4. The figures show cumulative savings on this basis for 4 or more designations over 20 years although all the assumptions should be reviewed.
EU Internal Market and Industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska released a statement saying that this fee pattern "means that a company protecting its innovation with the Unitary Patent will pay less than €5000 in renewal fees over 10 years covering a territory of 25 Member States, instead of the current level of around €30 000 which has proven to discourage companies from patenting in Europe. The agreed level of fees will reduce the gap between the cost of patent protection in Europe compared with the US, Japan and other third countries. I have always argued that an affordable level of renewal fees is a key element to ensure the attractiveness of the Unitary Patent to companies, especially start-ups."
The President of the EPO also released a statement suggesting that the Select Committee would decide how the fees would be split between patent offices by the end of this year – another major stumbling block in the past.
These recent developments suggest that little is now left to hold the UP and UPC system up, other than the completion of ratification and the practical arrangements for the new courts. The UK IPO has indicated that the UK Government would not automatically delay the ratification of the Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA) until after the Brexit referendum. It the UK were to ratify this would leave only ratification by Germany and any four other contracting states needed to bring the UPCA into force. For our guide to Brexit, see here. For more on the current UPCA ratification position – see here.