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13-12-2012 » Unitary Patent Approved by the European Parliament

In adopting rules related to the Unitary Patent and the Unified European Patent Court Tuesday morning in Strasbourg, the European Union (EU) has without a doubt taken one of the final steps towards a unified European patent system.

The Unitary Patent will consist of a "European patent with unitary effect" throughout the EU (i.e. in every Member State of the EU) with the exception of, at least for the moment, Spain and Italy. Patent prosecution before the European Patent Office (EPO) will remain unchanged, and in fact, it is not until issue of the European patent that the patentee will have to decide between a patent with unitary effect, or, to continue by validating the issued European patent in individual Member States, as is the current practice. Therefore, the Unitary Patent will exist in tandem with “classic” European patents. Regarding translations, a transition period of several years will exist where the Unitary Patent must be translated to English or, if already in English, to one other EU language. Such a reduction in translation formalities, along with a new schedule of maintenance fees (for which there is no current information available), should permit patentees to obtain patent protection in the EU at a substantially reduced cost in comparison with the current costs, or so the European authorities has announced. Another desired outcome being to stimulate the competitiveness of EU companies.

The Unified Patent Court will have exclusive jurisdiction regarding infringement and revocation proceedings involving Unitary Patents. Ultimately, it will also have jurisdiction with respect to “classic” European patents. The objective is to obtain quality decisions applying to the entire EU territory at a reduced cost. The Unified Patent Court will comprise a first instance Court and a Court of Appeal. The first instance Court will have a central division as well as national/regional divisions. The central division will have its headquarters in Paris with satellite offices specializing in particular technical fields located in London and Munich. EU Member States will have the possibility, subject to certain conditions, to establish their own national/regional division(s) of the first instance Court. The Court of Appeal will be based in Luxembourg. The rules of procedure before the Unified Patent Court are currently in process.

It appears highly probable that the Unitary Patent and the Unified Patent Court will come into force in the near future. Companies who file European patent applications today will thus likely benefit from the new system, if so desired.

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