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Road to a new patent system in the EU

On 1 June 2023 the European Commission launched the new Unitary Patent System in 17 Member States, with the goal of simplifying the protection of innovation and intellectual property for companies. It has always been a problem to unify the national patents. The European Patent Office (EPO) was established in 1978, however, even after its establishment, questions lingered about its efficiency. The reason behind it is that after the acknowledgement of a European patent by the EPO, numerous new national patents that did not align with the existing European patents continued to emerge. Consequently, patent disputes, in particular, had to be tried independently in various national courts, potentially leading to inconsistent outcomes. The initial suggestions for the two current EU Regulations that serve as the foundation for the Unitary Patent system were made by the Commission in 2000. The adoption of these two Regulations took place in 2012. The participating Member States signed the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court (UPC Agreement) as an intergovernmental agreement, in 2013.

Nonetheless, this new System offers several advantages, including streamlining the complex landscape of national patent laws and procedures, reducing costs, enhancing legal certainty and providing uniform protection for patents across participating EU countries. It also offers a one-stop-shop for patent registration, meaning that innovators can now request a single “unitary” patent valid in all participating countries. This System fosters innovation, competition, and economic growth by supporting innovators, promoting the development and commercialization of new products and technology, and attracting foreign investment into the EU.

The process of obtaining a unitary patent involves several phases. The first phase, which remains unchanged, begins with filing a European patent application at the EPO. The EPO conducts an examination, and if it is approved, then a European patent is granted. Within one month of receiving the European patent, the patent holder can request the EPO to grant unitary effect for the participating Member States. At the same time, the patent holder can choose to validate the European patent in additional countries that are not even part of the Unitary Patent System.

In summary, the Unitary Patent System represents a significant advancement in European patent law, offering cost savings, efficient registration, uniform protection, legal clarity, and economic benefits which was a long-awaited initiative.