The European Union ("EU") is rolling out the new "unitary" patent, which will be administered by a new Unified Patent Court. The unitary patent will be valid in 25 EU states; as of today, two EU members, Spain and Italy, are not participating in the new system. The unitary patent is expected to come into force as early as January 1, 2014, after one more procedural vote is taken.
The unitary patent will not replace, but rather will co-exist with, the current system of European national patents and the "classic" European patent. The unitary patent is expected to provide protection similar to the classic European patent at a fraction of the cost.
Currently, inventors who seek European-wide patent protection file a patent application in the European Patent Office ("EPO"). The patent application must be translated into one of the three official languages of the EPO: English, French or German. Once the patent is granted by the EPO, the patent must then be validated in each and every country where patent protection is sought. Validation requires yet further translation of at least portions of the patent application into the local language of each validating country, and depending on the relevant national law, additional fees may be required.
Based upon the current system, the European Commission (the EU's executive body) estimates that the cost of having a patent recognized in every one of the EU member countries can be about €36,000 ($47,282). €23,000 ($30,208) of the estimated cost is attributed to the expense of obtaining translations alone. The new unitary patent system will change this.
Under the new system, an inventor who seeks European-wide patent protection may file a patent application in one language at the EPO in order to gain protection through a single unitary patent across all of the 25 participating member states. In other words, no further translation or national fees will apply. The European Commission believes that once the unitary patent system is in effect, the cost of a unitary patent will eventually be less than €5,000 ($6,567).