In June 2023, the European Union (EU) will introduce the European Unitary Patent. At the outset, the European Unitary Patent will be enforceable in the 17 States that have ratified the agreement between the EU and the EPO: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, and Sweden. This type of patent is designed to reduce the complexity and cost of obtaining patent protection across multiple EU countries. Currently, obtaining patent protection in multiple EU countries requires separate applications and payments to each individual country’s patent office. The European Unitary Patent is seen as a significant development that will purportedly simplify the patenting process in the EU.
As more States ratify the agreement, the enforceability of the European Unitary Patent will expand. The European Unitary Patent will eventually be valid in 25 participating EU countries: Cypress, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and the 17 States listed above. This will enable patent holders to protect their inventions across multiple EU Member States with a single application and a single set of renewal fees. It is important to note that a Unitary Patent will only be valid in the EU countries that have ratified the agreement at the time of application. This system will also provide a single jurisdiction for litigation to challenge or defend the validity of a patent. Therefore, the European Unitary Patent is also expected to reduce the legal costs associated with patent disputes and create a more uniform legal framework for intellectual property rights in the EU.
The process for acquiring a unitary patent involves three steps. First, an applicant must file a European patent application at the European Patent Office (EPO). If the application is deemed to satisfy all requirements, the EPO will grant a European patent. After a European patent has been granted, the patent owner must request the unitary effect of the patent within one month from the grant of the European patent. Once the request for unitary effect has been submitted, the European Patent Office will register the unitary patent and publish a notice in the European Patent Bulletin.
The fees to file a European patent application vary depending on the complexity of the invention, the language in which the application is filed, and the size of the applicant’s company. This usually costs between 110 – 1260 EUR (approximately $121 – $1,385USD). The fees for the examination and grant of a European patent are usually between 580 EUR and 4000 EUR (approximately $638 – $4,397USD). Unitary patents will require the payment of annual renewal fees to maintain the validity of the patent. The renewal fees will have to be paid to the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). The EPO states that, on average, an applicant will save almost $7,000 over the 20-year lifespan of the patent by filing a European Unitary Patent as compared to filing patents in four individual European countries.
Overall, the European Unitary Patent is an essential step towards a more integrated EU economy and a more unified patent protection system. As discussed above, this new system is expected to reduce the costs and complexity associated with obtaining patent protection across the EU, support innovation and the development of new technologies, foster economic growth within the region, and provide a single jurisdiction for patent-related litigation. As the EU continues to work towards a more harmonized patent system, the implementation of the European Unitary Patent is likely to have a significant impact on the competitiveness of European industries on the global stage.