October 1, 2012

European Unified Patent System

Dr. Ilan Cohn (Former Partner), Senior Partner
Dr. Ilan Cohn (Former Partner)

Senior Partner

Reinhold Cohn & Partners

On June 29, 2012, the Heads of State or Government of the European Union (EU) Member States reached a historic decision towards establishing an EU-wide patent system; and the target date for implementing the new Unified Patent System is April 2014. While the legislative process at the European Parliament may impose a delay, it nonetheless seems that the Unified European Patent System is about to become a reality.

The establishment of a unified patent system that will provide a single patent jurisdiction in terms of patent grant and enforcement has been in discussion for several decades, since the early days of the European Union (or the Common Market as it was called then). While there had been an overall recognition of the need and advantage of such a system, there have been political hurdles to its establishment, including agreement on language and translation and the court system that will handle patent disputes. Most of the hurdles had been removed with the last remaining stumbling block being the location of the so called Unified Patent Court (UPC). This is has now been resolved.  

A decision on this topic was finally reached on 29 June 2012 by the Heads of all the EU Member States with the exception of Italy and Spain; and indeed, at least initially, it seems that the unified patent system will exclude said two States. The European Patent Office (EPO) has been designated to grant Unitary Patents and centrally administer the European patent system. The details will have to be worked out in a legislative process involving the European Commission and the European Parliament. It is expected that the unified patent system will reduce costs of obtaining European-wide patent protection and streamline patent enforcement by obviating the need for multiple national proceedings and hence also reduce enforcement costs.      

The UPC will comprise a Central Division as well as regional and local divisions. The main seat of the Central Division will be located in Paris and it will have two equally important branches specializing in specific technologies, which include: London for chemistry, pharmaceuticals and related technologies, and Munich for mechanical engineering and the like.

The UPC will be the first instance for infringement and validity cases for all European patents granted under the unified patent system.

The creation of the EU unified patent system will undoubtedly lead to a marked reduction in efforts and costs in maintaining and enforcing patent rights in the EU. It is also to be expected that the value of European patents will rise considerably in consequence of the unified patent system.

The target date for the unified patent system coming into effect is April 2014. However, some emerging legislative hurdles may cause some delay. It is widely believed that such hurdles will be overcome and that a unified European patent system will, thus, become a reality in the not too distant future.

This article is provided for general information only. It is not intended as legal advice or opinion and cannot be relied upon as such. Advice on specific matters may be provided by our group’s attorneys.

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