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New EU Unitary Patent?

January 4, 2013

In news that you may have missed because it happened right before the holidays, on December 11th the European Parliament approved regulations creating a unitary patent that will be automatically recognized in 25 EU countries and overseen by a new court. That means European patents will no longer have to be individually validated in those countries, and that patent translations into a myriad of European languages will no longer be required. The EU’s stated goal is to cut the cost of patent protection by up to 80%, making it competitive with the US and Japan, and to give small and medium-sized businesses seeking patent protection a break.

But not everyone is jumping on the unitary patent bandwagon. To begin with, 13 member states including France, Germany, and the U.K. must first ratify the new process. Setting up the new court system to oversee the patent will take time, and late 2014 or early 2015 is the earliest the new system will likely be in place. Italy and Spain will not join in, since applications must be in German, French, or English, and their languages are relegated to the list of “lesser” European languages by the new system.

But more importantly, patent attorneys are concerned that the reforms don’t really create a single patent court.  Since the new court will apply a patent owner’s national law when ruling on patent infringement cases, different standards will apply for each case and patent trolls will be able to choose the friendliest territory to launch opportunistic litigation. Finally, many large companies–like pharmaceutical companies–that would be mostly likely to use the new system since they validate their patents widely across Europe will be nervous about taking the risk of relying on a brand new system that has not yet been tested in court.

The EU unitary patent will mean big changes for patent owner’s  and patent attorneys not just in Europe but around the world. We will continue updating you on this issue and how it will affect both EU patent validation as well as patent translation for the EU in future blog posts.