19th February 2013 marked a major milestone for the European patent, as almost all of the European Union member states signed an international agreement for the creation of the Unified Patent Court (“UPC”). This agreement, in conjunction with two EU regulations that were passed last December, will enable the European Patent Office to grant “unitary patents” – single patents that cover the whole of the European Union, except for Poland and Spain, which did not sign up to the agreement.
Ultimately, the UPC will have exclusive jurisdiction over unitary patents, existing and future European patents that are in force in participating member states and supplementary protection certificates issued for a product protected by such patents. A decision from the UPC on infringement or validity – and associated injunctions – will then have effect Europe-wide, rather than just in a single country.
The earliest date on which the European Patent Office can grant unitary patents is 1st January 2014 but it is likely that it will take longer than this for ratification of the agreement to be completed and for the necessary administrative machinery to be in place.