Progress on a Unified European Patent

Posted Monday, July 2, 2012.

For those interested in protecting an invention internationally through patent applications in foreign countries, the process for Europe has been a bit convoluted compared with other countries.

Patent prosecution in Europe is currently conducted in a unified fashion by the European Patent Office (EPO). A successful applicant at the EPO will receive a “European Patent.” However, for the European Patent to be enforceable in any individual country within Europe, the applicant must nationalize the European patent by presenting it to an intellectual property office in each country and paying a fee. A translation of the patent may be necessary (usually incurring another expense). Then, a suit is brought in a court in the country where the patentee wishes to assert the patent rights (i.e. sue an infringer).

There has been a long felt need for a European patent that truly provided international coverage within Europe, without the additional steps to nationalize the patent or requiring a patentee to bring suit for infringement in various European national courts. But the EU has recently reached agreement on some terms that will permit a true European Patent to issue.

The most important aspect of the agreement is that a Unified Patent Court, with branches in London, Munich and Paris, will have jurisdiction to hear patent suits for all participating countries in the EU. (Italy and Spain are opting out for now.) The courts have technical arts for particular cases assigned to them. So, for example, if one had a drug patent a suit might be brought in London, where a mechanical patent would require suit to be brought in Munich.

A second aspect of the new agreement is that patent applications in the EPO will require English, French and German translations. Previously, one only needed a translation if nationalization in a particular country was planned where the translated language was the national language.

Details are still being worked out, but the agreement regarding the Unified Patent Court is a very significant step towards establishing a true European Patent. Ultimately, for those interested in international patents, the result should be a lower overall cost to acquire and litigate the patent.

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