Unitary Patents – or "European patents with unitary effect" – are European patents granted by the EPO under the rules and procedures of the EPC, to which, at the patent proprietor's request, unitary effect is given for the territory of up to 25 Member States participating in the Unitary Patent system and having ratified the UPC Agreement.
Unitary Patents will co-exist with national patents and “classic” European patents. Patent proprietors will in future be able to choose between various combinations of “classic” European patents and Unitary Patents, for example:
- a Unitary Patent providing protection in the 25 EU Member States participating in the Unitary Patent system, and
- a “classic” European patent taking effect in one or more EPC contracting states which are not participating in the Unitary Patent system (e.g. Spain, Croatia, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom – see information on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Unitary Patent system) or which have not yet ratified the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court and hence not yet joined the system.
Under EU Regulation No 1257/2012 on the Unitary Patent system, the participating Member States have entrusted the EPO with the following tasks:
- receiving and examining requests for unitary effect
- registering unitary effect
- publishing translations during the transitional period
- setting up and maintaining a new "Register for Unitary Patent protection" containing entries on transfer, licensing, lapse, limitation or revocation of Unitary Patents
- collecting annual renewal fees for Unitary Patents
- distributing a share of the annual renewal fees to the participating Member States
- administering a compensation scheme to support certain applicants, in particular SMEs, universities and public research organisations having their residence or principal place of business in an EU Member State, with a lump sum of EUR 500 to cover their translation costs if their European patent application leading to the Unitary Patent was filed in an official EU language other than English, French or German.
Decisions of the EPO regarding Unitary Patents will be taken by a new Unitary Patent Division set up under Article 143(2) EPC. Decisions of the Unitary Patent Division may be appealed to the Unified Patent Court.
A Unitary Patent may be requested for any European patent granted on or after the date of application of EU Regulations No 1257/2012 and 1260/2012, i.e. as of the date of entry into force of the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court.