In 2012, the European Parliament drafted regulations to create a system for a European patent with unitary effect, also known as a unitary patent. The unitary patent is a European patent granted by the European Patent Organisation (EPO) which will be effective in the 25 participating EU member states (excluding Croatia, Italy and Spain). This patent will co-exist with national patents and the classical European bundle patents to enable an application to choose various combinations of the unitary patent system and the existing European bundle patent system. The regulations regarding the unitary patent entered into force in January 2013 and will apply beginning on January 1, 2014 or from the entry into force of the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court (UPC), whichever is later (as of now it is not likely until 2015). These regulations will thus bring changes and opportunities to the European patent system.
After a European patent has been granted by the EPO, the patent holder may request that the patent be registered as a unitary patent. In contrast, if pursuing the original bundle patents, a patentee chooses in which European states he desires to validate (i.e., make effective) and enforce the patent. The unitary patent validates the patent in all 25 participating EU states without the need to pick individual states. Theoretically, this aspect should lower the cost of the unitary patent although costs have yet to be set. Any challenges to a unitary patent or enforcement issues will take place through the UPC.
The unitary patent also makes changes to translation requirements. Once the European patent has been granted, there will be no translation requirement for unitary patents after a transitional period has expired. During the transitional period (of up to 12 years) a patentee may have to provide a translation 1) into English if the language of proceedings at the EPO is French or German or 2) into any official language of the EU if the language of proceedings at the EPO is English. In addition, the EPO has developed a machine translation program together with Google to offer automated translation of European patent applications and patents. The program currently covers 19 European languages, but will be available for languages of all EPO Member States by the end of 2014.
In addition to the unitary patent, the UPC provides a new court system having a central division in Paris, a Court of Appeals in Luxembourg, and local, regional and further central divisions located throughout the participating EU states. The UPC will have jurisdiction not only to hear unitary patent cases, but also to hear classical European patent cases. Once in force, the UPC will have exclusive jurisdiction to hear infringement actions and supplementary protection certificate actions, counterclaims for revocation, revocation proceedings, injunction proceedings, and actions against EPO decisions related to Unitary Patents. In addition, during a 7-year transition period cases can be opted-out of the UPC to be brought before national courts. Once 13 member states ratify the UPC Agreement, the UPC will be in force thereby making the regulations regarding the unitary patent in force as well. The current target date is early 2015.