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Patent applicants will soon have the additional option of filing for a “unitary patent” in Europe, effective in 25 EU member states (only Italy and Spain declined to participate) under legislation approved by the European Parliament on December 11, 2012.  The unitary patent will be administered by the European Patent Office (EPO), and will co-exist with the current EP patent regime and national patents granted in individual states.  It will not require validation to be effected in each state where protection is desired, which is expected to provide substantial savings in both time and cost.  In addition, no further human translations will be required upon grant of a unitary patent.  Instead, machine translations will be available for the purposes of disclosing the contents of the patent.  The EPO will also maintain a registry providing the current legal status of unitary patents, and will handle post-grant processing such as collection of renewal fees.

In addition, the new laws establish a Unified Patent Court, pending ratification by individual EU member states, as a litigation forum for unitary patents.  The Court is expected to provide patent owners with greater certainty in validity actions and to lower litigation expenses.  Currently, EP patent holders wishing to enforce their rights risk obtaining decisions that may vary by jurisdiction.

Applicants may be able to file for a unitary patent as early as January 2014.  For further information, see http://www.epo.org/law-practice/unitary.html.

-Kirsten Johnson