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The European Commission actively promotes the implementation of the European patent with unitary effect (the ‘unitary patent’) and the establishment of a new patent court. The unitary patent is a legal title that will provide uniform protection across all participating countries on a one-stop-shop basis, providing huge cost advantages and reducing administrative burdens. The Unified Patent Court will offer a single, specialised patent jurisdiction.

The benefits of unitary patent protection for Europe

Unitary patent protection will make the existing European patent system simpler and less expensive for inventors (individuals, companies, and research organisations). It will end complex validation requirements and drastically limit expensive translation requirements in participating countries. Consequently, it is expected to stimulate research, development and investment in innovation, helping to boost growth in the EU.

Unitary patent protection will also protect 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 November 2021.

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). The process for the ratification of the agreement is ongoing. As of November 2021, 16 EU countries have ratified the UPCA, with Germany being ready to do so. The unified jurisdiction will deal with disputes relating to classical European and unitary patents, for which it will have exclusive jurisdiction in these countries.

Next steps

With regard to the UPC Agreement, only Germany needs to deposit its instrument of ratification for the unitary patent system to start operating (3 months later), but this will not take place before operational preparations are sufficiently advanced under the provisional application period of the UPC Agreement.

Following Austria’s ratification of the Protocol on the Provisional Application of the UPC Agreement, the related provisional application period started on 19 January 2022. The new system is expected to start operating on 1 June 2023, initially covering 17 EU countries.

The preparatory team of the Unified Patent Court has prepared an implementation roadmap that depicts all the key activities and milestones of the UPC in the coming months.

Important information for users

With a view to supporting users in an early uptake of the Unitary Patent, the EPO introduced two transitional measures applicable to European patent applications having reached the final phase of the grant procedure. These measures will be available until the launch of the unitary patent system.

In parallel, from 1 March 2023 (during the so-called 'sunrise period'), the Unified Patent Court will make it possible to file early opt-out requests in respect of non-unitary European patents (and related applications, and SPCs).

More information