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European Union Parliament Approves Unitary Patent

Earlier this week, the EU Parliament approved a new unitary patent regime for most EU member states.  The legislation awaits approval of the member states, but this is still an interesting development in the world of patents because it’s the first time that patent protection might truly stride across national borders.

Why This Is a Big Deal…

Patents Were National

A difficult concept for new inventors to grasp is just how national patents really are.  There is no such thing as an international patent.  Or rather, there was no such thing as an international patent.  When you get a patent here in the US, you have a patent here and nowhere else, unless you apply for and receive a patent in another country.  So if a Chinese company copies your invention, there is no problem, until they try to import the invention into a jurisdiction where you do have a patent.

This elimination of the jurisdiction limitation represents a major change, at least in this one part of the world, EU countries.  Soon you will be able to apply for a patent in, say, France and when your patent issues, you will have protection in, say, Germany.  So if a German company tries to copy your invention, you can walk right over to Germany and sue the pants off them!

This does make one wonder, will there ever be a push to further “harmonize” the US patent system with the rest of the world?.  In 2013, we will be making the transition from First-to-Invent to First-to-File, as part of the American Invents Act, signed into law in 2011.  This was a big change that was inspired by a desire to harmonize our patent system with the rest of the industrialized world.   We are also harmonizing our patent classification systems, moving to the Cooperative Patent Classification system next year.  There are many other little tweaks that would have to happen for an integrated patent system, but we may be moving in that direction.

A Unified Patent System will be a Huge Money Saver!

Up to this point, the EU had a single examination regime, but not a single patent.  Each jurisdiction where an applicant desired patent protection required separate filing and issuance fees.  This change will dramatically cut costs of obtaining patent coverage across the EU.  The translation costs will also be lower, as the EPO will be accepting applications in English, French and German.

There might be a small uptick in filing of US application from European countries, as applicants now have more money to play with.  It will be something to follow as the changes take place.

A Unified Patent Could Make the EU More Competitive.

With easier patent coverage, European companies will be more nimble within the boundaries of the EU.

Why This is Not a Big Deal…

This shift is not a big deal because the EU has been a steady path toward full integration.  It only makes sense that they would eventually unify their patent system.

Unless you were going to file a patent application in Europe, you won’t see any difference in your own patent life.