European Parliament Approves Unitary Patent System

Well, it’s been almost 4 decades in the making, but in a historic session today, the European Parliament finally approved the three sets of regulations that would create a unitary European patent system. These three proposals establish the unitary patent, the language regime and the unified patent court overseeing legal disputes.

Created under the doctrine of enhanced cooperation, the unitary patent will serve as a cost-effective alternative to the current system which requires validation and translation of the patent in many countries after the patent is granted. The current patent system was previously viewed by many as a “tax on innovation”, costing applicants nearly €36,000 to get full protection in Europe. Under the new unitary patent system, it is estimated that it will cost applicants about €7000 to get protection in 25 of the 27 EU countries (Spain and Italy being the holdouts to the “single European patent” system).

However, the new unitary system is not without criticism. Many view the proposed system as a political compromise from participants who just want to see the end to a 40-year debate. Others claim that the European Parliament lost its authority to shape Europe’s innovation policy under the unitary system. The new Unified Patent Court also raises red flags for many parties. An untested judicial system runs the risk of unpredictability. In fact, in a panel session at the IP Business Congress in Beijing attended by yours truly last week, patent applicants were advised to wait “10 years” for the kinks of the unitary system to be worked out.

The international agreement creating a unified patent court is expected to enter into force on January 1, 2014, or after thirteen contracting states ratify it, provided that the UK, France and Germany are among them. The other two acts would apply from January 1, 2014, or from the date when the international agreement enters into force, whichever is the latest.


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