On June 27, 2011, 25 member states of the European Union voted to continue development of a Unitary Patent System for all of the EU. While the time frame for implementation is not fixed, commentators believe that it could be in place by 2013.

As background, for several years there has been increasing pressure to reduce the cost of patent procurement while expanding the reach of issued patents in the European Union. Language has been a major hurdle that is finally being resolved, most likely because English is evolving into the business and technical language of Europe.

The proposed Unitary Patent System would provide patent applicants an additional option to seek either a traditional national patent or a European patent under treaties and protocols that are currently in place. More particularly, the system would likely allow a European patent granted by the European Patent Office under the European Patent Convention to be effective in all 25 member countries without the need to file additional translations after the patent is granted. Currently, once a patent is granted in Europe, the patent owner who wishes to have the patent effective in multiple member states must have the patent translated and validated in each member state of interest. Accordingly, the proposed Unitary Patent System has the potential to significantly reduce the cost of procuring a patent in Europe. Note that although Italy and Spain have chosen not to participate in the process of developing the proposed Unitary Patent System, they may yet join the Unitary Patent System after it is developed.

Those who own or who plan to own a portfolio of international patents should remain alert to the implications. Costs and budgets will likely be impacted and, depending on what occurs, ownership options could change significantly, all by 2013.

Additional information about the proposed Unitary Patent System in Europe will be available in the coming months.