Inventors who wish to file in the European Union now have a new choice in their patent filing strategies. After thirty years of being in the works, a new EU patent system was endorsed by the EU Parliament on December 12, 2012 (12/12/2012!). The effective date of the new system, however, is contingent on implementing what is known as the “Agreement on the Unified Patent Court” (see below for more details).
Prospective patentees will be able to file through the European Patent Organisation (the “EPO”) for the EU unitary patent, which is valid in twenty-five member states. At this time, Spain and Italy have not signed on, but may do so in the future. Similar to past EPO filings, applications must be in English, German or French or filed with a translation into one of the three languages.
Particularly for small businesses, the new EU unitary patent has some attractive features. These include possible reimbursement of translation costs and more reasonable renewal costs. As noted, remaining legal aspects of the new system must be finalized before it is implemented. For implementation by the start of 2014, thirteen EU Member States will need to ratify the draft agreement on the Unified Patent Court. The thirteen EU states would also need to include France, Germany and the UK, the three states with the most EU patents currently in force. The European patent community expects that the Member States will sign the agreement early in 2013, which will begin the ratification process.