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After a 30 year deadlock, the European Union is one step closer to a common European patent after EU ministers voted on Monday to allow 25 EU member states to establish a unitary patent system.
The proposal was approved under the so-called “enhanced co-operation procedure” which allows groups of EU member states to move ahead when others disagree. Spain and Italy are the two states to have objected.
Under the existing European patent system a European patent application leads to grant of a bundle of individual national patents in selected European countries. Translation and renewal costs are significant. Consequently, most European patents are only entered in to force in a handful of countries. It has been estimated to be 13 times more expensive to obtain patents covering all 27 countries of the EU than a US or Chinese patent.
Under the new unitary patent proposal, owners of European patent applications filed at the European Patent Office will be able to choose between grant of the conventional bundle of national patents or a single unitary patent covering all 25 EU countries party to the scheme – much like an existing Community trade mark or design has effect throughout all the countries of the EU.
The new scheme is intended to enter into force on 1 January 2014, together with a unified language regime and unified patent court system, the latter of which is not without controversy.
The unified patent system will add an extra option for companies and individuals seeking patent protection in Europe and should be, in many circumstances, more cost effective than the existing system. Some of the potential cost savings have been considerably exaggerated by those in favour of the system. In practice, we anticipate that clients will need to be guided through all the options available for seeking patent protection in Europe and select the most appropriate and cost effective for their particular circumstances. Indeed, we currently adopt a similar approach in advising clients how best to seek international trade mark protection, choosing between the national, Community (EU) and International trade mark registration systems.
For more information, or to discuss your options for seeking patent protection in Europe, please speak to your usual contact at Wilson Gunn or click here to contact us.