Details On The Proposed Unified European Patent

Recently, the European Union released further details on the unified European patent system currently being pursued under the enhanced cooperation doctrine.  So far, 25 Member States have agreed to this proposal.

In order to receive a unified European patent, the applicant must file an application with the European Patent Office (EPO).  Once a patent has been granted, and the grant is published in the European Patent Bulletin, the applicant will need to request the EPO to register the unitary effect in the European Patent Register.  Once this request is made, the patent will take effect retroactively from the mention of the grant in the 25 Member States.  No further validation steps are required in order to get protection in these Member States. 

Details about the translation requirements were also discussed.  Under the unitary system, the application can be filed in any language.  Applicants will need to provide a translation of the application into either English, German or French (if it is not already in one of those languages).  Applicants who are residents of the EU will be compensated for their translation expenses.  If and when the application is allowed, a patent will be granted in one of three official languages.   The allowed claims will also need to be translated into the other two official languages. 

So what’s the bottom line for the applicant under this system?  Currently, obtaining a patent in Europe is about 10 times more expensive than getting on in the US, mostly due to the translations costs incurred at the validation stage.  Under the unified system, the post-grant costs for obtaining patent protection in the 25 Member States will be 680 Euro, a stark contrast from the roughly 32,000 Euro currently needed to validate in all 27 EU countries. 

For many applicants, this unified European patent can’t come soon enough.  Looking back at our clients’ 2010 national stage filings, Europe experienced a slight decrease from the previous year.  In our 2011 Global Patent & IP Trends Indicator, an overwhelming majority of respondents, 88%, were in favor of a unified European patent.  Furthermore, respondents cited cost and complexity for reducing their patent filings in Europe.  This sentiment was particularly expressed by pharmaceutical applicants whose filing strategy is often “go big or go home”.       

Several obstacles still must be overcome before we see a unified European patent.  Until then, applicants can only sit and wait (and translate and validate). 


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