The newly introduced unitary patent system in European Union is making the headlines, raising debates and several questions.
Before proceeding with the analytical perspective, let’s understand how the unitary patent system is affecting the intellectual property ecosystem in the EU.
Introduction Of New Rule
The Unitary Patent system, which will make it simpler and more accessible for businesses to protect their discoveries in Europe and profit from their intellectual property, was officially launched today, and the Commission is pleased with this development. The European Union’s Single Market for Patents will be regulated by the Unitary Patent system, enhancing the innovation and competitiveness of the EU. It will first apply to 17 Member States or almost 80% of the total GDP of the EU. Additional Member States may eventually participate.
In Europe, the Unitary Patent system offers a single point of contact for the registration and enforcement of patents. For innovators, especially SMEs, this implies lower expenses, less paperwork, and a lighter administrative load. It enables businesses and other inventors to get just one “unitary” patent for their ideas, which all participating Member States recognize. It also eliminates the more expensive national validation criteria for European patents, eliminating the need to navigate a complex patchwork of federal patent rules and procedures.
A new Unified Intellectual Court (UPC), which would have jurisdiction over both Unitary Patents and current European Patents, will make it easier for businesses to enforce their intellectual rights. The UPC will give patent disputes a more uniform legal framework and lessen the possibility of erroneous decisions. Concretely, numerous concurrent proceedings before national courts will be replaced by a single action before the UPC.
The 17 states in enhanced cooperation which already ratified the Agreements and will participate in the Unitary Patent when it starts are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden.
Image source: https://www.epo.org/
Benefits The New System Is Bringing
The following are the key benefits of the new unitary patent system:
- Lower costs for patent protection in Europe: The new system provides a cost-effective method for patent protection in the participating Member States by doing away with the more expensive and laborious national validation and renewal procedures in each EU member state. Instead of over €29,000 for renewal in the participating Member States, a Unitary Patent will cost less than €5,000 in renewal fees over ten years. The cost difference between patent protection in the EU and important trading partners like the USA or Japan will be significantly narrowed thanks to the unitary patent.
- One-stop shop for patent registration: Improving the current European Patent, a new, simplified procedure with a solitary, cost-free request for unitary effect, approved by the European Patent Office (EPO), would cut down on the time and expense needed to secure patent protection across numerous EU nations.
- Patents are protected uniformly across participating EU nations: The Unitary Patent is a single patent title that provides uniform protection across 17 participating Member States. It includes Germany, France, and Italy, the EU’s three largest economies, covering almost 80% of the EU’s GDP. The system is anticipated to expand to include more Member States, with coverage of the entire EU being the ultimate objective.
- Improved legal certainty in patent enforcement: The new Unified Patent Court (UPC) will simplify the settlement of patent disputes and provide a more consistent and dependable judicial environment. Since a single action before the UPC will replace numerous concurrent processes before national courts, it will also remove the possibility of inconsistent legal rulings in the participating Member States. The UPC’s ability to handle litigation involving the new Unitary Patents and other European Patents is a significant advantage.
- Innovation, competitiveness, and economic growth: The new Unitary Patent system will boost the work, making it easier and more affordable for businesses and inventors to safeguard and enforce their intellectual property in the EU. Additionally, it will enhance economic growth, competitiveness, and the development and commercialization of new technology and goods. It will also aid in luring foreign investment into the EU.
The legal patent structure still needed to be improved in several other areas. This is why the Commission proposed measures to supplement the Unitary Patent system on April 27, 2023. These measures included new standards for standard-essential patents (SEP), the requirement that patents be licensed under certain emergency conditions, and changes to the law governing supplementary protection certificates (SPC), including creating a unitary SPC.
Historical Journey Behind The Revolutionary Step
After fifty years of trial and error, litigation, and diplomatic standoffs, innovators can now apply for a unitary patent that safeguards intellectual property in up to 25 EU countries at once.
The new approach promises to make it simpler and less expensive for innovators to secure their inventions by doing away with the need to register patents country by country. Because of the fragmented system up until now, many inventors could only obtain patent protection in a small number of nations.
Another important development is that the Unitary Patent Court, situated in Luxembourg, now allows for the cross-border enforcement of a European patent before a single court in a single infringement process.
|1949||The proposal for a unitary patent was first floated|
|1975||The ‘community patent’ started to take shape, when member states of the then-European Economic Community signed the Community Patent Convention. However, this never entered into force.|
|2009||EU member states finally agreed to reform the European patent system, but the problems didn’t stop then. Spain and Italy opposed in protest at the designation of English, French and German as the sole patent languages. Countries also couldn’t agree on where the Unitary Patent Court should be located.|
|2023 (February)||Ratified by Germany|
|2023 (June)||Officially launched the Unitary Patent system, which will make it simpler and easier for businesses to protect their discoveries in Europe and profit from their intellectual property.|
Future Planning Regarding Unitary Patent System
The EU’s patent system reform is still ongoing. The European Commission unveiled a three-pronged strategy last month to harmonise EU laws and advance the unitary patent system.
The proposals deal with standard essential patents (SEPs), which specify requirements for adhering to industry standards, like 5G mobile standards, compulsory licencing of patents in emergency situations, and supplementary protection certificates, which allow pharmaceutical companies to extend the patent life of drugs.
The business community criticised the proposed SEP regulations, saying they would hand over the management of patents—which are crucial for ensuring that companies can obtain licences to use them—to an organisation with no prior knowledge of standards or patents.
The European Association of Research and Technology Organisations (EARTO) weighed in on the Commission’s proposed legislation to overhaul SEPs on Wednesday, saying it is too broad and disruptive and might harm Europe’s innovation environment.
According to EARTO, the risk is that global technology transfer systems that have historically balanced the interests of innovators and technology implementors may be disturbed.
Additionally, due to the proposed Regulation, IP owners will pay significantly more to participate in technical standardisation processes and SEP licencing. This will deter RD&I participants like universities and RTOs from taking part in the procedure.