The unitary patent system was successfully launched on 1 June. This significant milestone was commemorated through a series of events held in Luxembourg (the seat of the Court of Appeal of the UPC), Munich (the headquarters of the EPO), and Paris (the seat of the Court of First Instance of the UPC).
The unitary patent is a legal title that provides uniform protection across all participating countries on a one-stop-shop basis, providing huge cost advantages and reducing administrative burdens. The Unified Patent Court offers a single, specialised patent jurisdiction.
The benefits of unitary patent protection for Europe
Unitary patent protection makes the existing European patent system simpler and less expensive for inventors (individuals, companies, and research organisations). It ends complex validation requirements and drastically limits expensive translation requirements in participating countries. Consequently, it aims to stimulate research, development and investment in innovation, helping to boost growth in the EU.
Unitary patent protection also protects inventions better than the current system. Due to the prohibitive costs involved in the national validation and maintenance of European patents, many inventors currently only patent their inventions in a handful of countries. This makes inventions less valuable as the lack of protection in other countries makes copying them easier.
Unitary patent protection and the Unified Patent Court
In 2012, EU countries and the European Parliament agreed on the ‘patent package’ – a legislative initiative consisting of 2 regulations and an international agreement that lay the ground for the creation of unitary patent protection in the EU.
The package consists of
- a regulation creating a European patent with unitary effect ('unitary patent')
- a regulation establishing a language regime applicable to the unitary patent
- an agreement between EU countries to set up a single and specialised patent jurisdiction (the 'Unified Patent Court')
The regulations implement enhanced cooperation in the creation of unitary patent protection. All EU countries participate in this enhanced cooperation except for Spain and Croatia. In 2015, Italy joined the enhanced cooperation on unitary patent protection, which includes 25 EU countries as of May 2023.
Following the adoption of the 2 Regulations in 2012, the contracting countries, except for Poland but with the addition of Italy, proceeded with the signature of the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court (UPCA). As of May 2023, 17 EU countries have ratified the UPCA, and all legal requirements are met for that agreement – and indeed for the whole unitary patent system – to enter into force/operation on 1 June 2023. The unified jurisdiction deals with disputes relating to classical European and unitary patents, for which it has exclusive jurisdiction in these countries.
After decades of negotiations on the unitary patent, on 24 June 2015, EU countries agreed on the level of renewal fees of the unitary patent. The renewal fees will be equal to the sum of national renewal fees in 4 countries (Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands). This means that an inventor protecting their innovation with the unitary patent will pay less than €5 000 in renewal fees over 10 years for a territory that covers 26 EU countries, instead of the current level of around €30 000, which has proven to discourage companies from patenting in Europe.
The competitive price of renewal fees is a key element to ensure the attractiveness of the unitary patent to companies, especially start-ups. It will also reduce the gap between the cost of patent protection in Europe compared with the US, Japan and other third countries.
A workshop took place in May 2015 to hear the views of potential users of the unitary title:
In November 2015, EU countries reached an important agreement on the financial distribution of the revenue of unitary patents. The agreement fixes the distribution key for an initial period of operation with 50% of fees retained by the EPO (European Patent Office) while the remainder (minus an administrative charge) is distributed among the participating countries according to a formula that takes account of the GDP and the number of applications filed from that country. The distribution arrangements are subject to regular reviews. The distribution key will be subject to revision every 5 years.
In June 2015, EU countries participating at the select committee on the unitary patent explicitly requested the Commission’s help to minimise the cost of patent protection for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The Commission’s single market strategy also identifies the need to support SMEs when filing, using and enforcing intellectual property (IP) rights, especially patents.
Therefore the Commission is working on designing a set of measures to help SMEs requesting and managing unitary patents and other European IP rights. We will be working in the coming months on
- affordable European litigation fee insurance
- a specialised mediation and arbitration service focusing on the needs of innovative SMEs
- the use of structural funds for rewarding innovative SMEs using IP, and in particular patents
- connecting SMEs with local IP experts in order to provide them with real and concrete guidance for their IP portfolio
- developing preventive IP infringing schemes targeted at SMEs (memoranda of understanding between suppliers, intermediaries and rights-holders to prevent or to disincentivise IP infringement behaviours)
The Commission will work together with the European Patent Office (EPO) and the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), EU countries and the European Parliament to design those measures and implement them across the European Union.
- Unitary patent guide (European Patent Office)
- Brochure: ‘An enhanced patent system’ (Select Committee and Preparatory Committee) (PDF)
- Unitary patent dashboard (maintained by the European Patent Office)
- Regulation (EU) No 1257/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council implementing enhanced cooperation in the area of the creation of unitary patent protection
- Council regulation (EU) No 1260/2012 implementing enhanced cooperation in the area of the creation of unitary patent protection with regard to the applicable translation arrangements
- Agreement on the Unified Patent Court
- Unified Patent Court Agreement ratification by EU country
- Rules relating to Unitary Patent Protection (23 March 2022)
Parliament approves EU unitary patent rules, 11 December 2012
- Press release from the European Parliament
- Statement on the patent package by former Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, Michel Barnier
Commission proposals implementing enhanced cooperation, 13 April 2011
- Press release: Commission proposes unitary patent protection to boost research and innovation
- Proposal for Regulation implementing enhanced cooperation in the area of the creation of unitary patent protection
- Proposal for Council Regulation implementing enhanced cooperation in the area of the creation of unitary patent protection with regard to the applicable translation arrangements
- Impact Assessment
- Summary of the Impact Assessment
- FAQ: Commission proposes unitary patent protection