On 11 December 2012, the European Parliament approved draft regulations for the creation of a unitary patent and a Unified Patent Court that will have effect across 25 participating European Union member states.
Spain and Italy are currently not participating in the scheme, but may join in the future.
The key feature of the unitary patent is that once granted, it will be automatically in force in all participating states. The current scheme of filing a granted European patent in individual member states will no longer be necessary.
Unitary patents will be made available alongside the current European patent system and national patents filed at individual state patent offices. Applicants will continue to file patent applications at the European Patent Office (EPO) but will be able to request a unitary patent, and/or a European patent under the existing system. Unitary patents will be examined by the EPO.
The draft regulations also outline relaxed translation requirements for unitary patents. For example, translation into the official language of a member state will not be necessary.
Once established, the Unified Patent Court will hear all actions related to the infringement and validity of unitary patents.
Impact for patent applicants
The unitary patent will significantly reduce the cost of obtaining patent protection across many European Union member states as patents will be administered centrally by the EPO, validation in individual states will not be necessary, and translation requirements will be less onerous. According to the European Union, a European patent may cost as little as NZ$7,000 under the unitary patent system, compared to an average cost of NZ$55,000 currently.
However, if applicants want patent protection in European countries that do not participate in the unitary patent scheme, they will still need to apply for a European patent under the current system, and seek validation in countries of interest. Alternatively, applications may be made at individual national patent offices in countries where this is available.
The Unified Patent Court will enter into force on 1 January 2014, or after 13 contracting states, including France, Germany and the United Kingdom, have ratified the agreement.
The unitary patent will be available from 1 January 2014, or after ratification, whichever is later.
For more information from the European Parliament press release, click here.