The European patent system was set up almost 40 years ago to support innovation and competitiveness. But despite its resounding economic success, the current system is structurally incomplete: today a patent holder choosing to have EPO-wide protection ends up with a bundle of 38 national patents covering countries speaking 29 different languages, and is subject to 38 different jurisdictions.
That is why the EPO supports the creation of a unitary patent system by the vast majority of EU member states along with a centralised, specialised European patent court in the EU. This is the only way that companies operating in Europe will be on a level playing field with their competitors in other markets such as China, Japan and the USA, which already have a unitary patent covering their respective territories and operate under a single jurisdiction.
2011 will go down in history as the year that a strong and near final go-ahead was given to establish a unitary patent in at least 25 EU member states, after decades of stalemate. This is expected to boost the competitiveness of the European economy by simplifying procedures and dramatically cutting the costs for businesses seeking patent protection in Europe. The reform will be especially beneficial for SMEs and research institutes.
The proposals foresee a primary role for the EPO: the Office has been designated by the EU as the body which will grant the unitary patent and centrally administer it on behalf of the participating EU member states. Over the past year we have been preparing to take on some new duties which will arise under the unitary patent scheme, from maintaining the register of unitary patents to collecting renewal fees.