On 11 December 2012 the European Parliament voted positively in a first reading on the EU Council’s compromise proposals for two draft EU regulations on a unitary patent for Europe. The first draft regulation concerns unitary patent protection, and the second sets out the translation arrangements for such protection. The draft regulations were accepted under the EU’s legislative procedure of “enhanced co-operation”: With the exception of Italy and Spain, 25 EU member states have embarked on enhanced co-operation with a view to creating unitary patent protection for their territories.
Once the regulations are formally adopted, they will have to be published in the Official Journal of the EU. The regulations will enter into force on the 20th day following their publication. However, they will only apply from 1 January 2014 or the date of entry into force of the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court, whichever is the later.
The main features of the regulations related to unitary patent protection, and the EPO’s role
The European patent with unitary effect (“unitary patent”) will be an another option for users besides already-existing national patents and classical European patents. A unitary patent will be a European patent granted by the EPO under the provisions of the European Patent Convention to which unitary effect for the territory of the 25 participating states is given after grant, at the patentee’s request. The unitary patent will thus not affect the EPO’s day-to-day search, examination and granting work.
However, the EPO will take on a number of additional tasks. For example, it will administer patentees’ requests for unitary effect. It will also be responsible for collecting, administering and remitting renewal fees for unitary patents and for keeping a register of unitary patents which will include legal-status information such as licences, transfers, limitation, revocation or lapse.
As regards the translation arrangements for the unitary patent, it was decided to use the EPO’s tried and tested language regime based on three official languages, namely English, German or French. After grant of the European patent, no further human translations will be required if the patent holder opts for a unitary patent; high-quality machine translation will be available for the purpose of informing on the content of patents. For a transitional period – until the machine translation system is fully operational – where the language of the proceedings before the EPO is French or German a full translation of the European patent specification must be provided into English or – if the language of the proceedings is English – into an official language of a EU member state. This translation must be filed by the patentee together with the request for unitary effect. The administration of these translations will be another new task for the Office. In addition, for applicants who have their residence or principal place of business in an EU member state with an official language other than the three EPO languages and who obtain a European patent with unitary effect, a system of additional reimbursement will be introduced for the costs of translating their application into the EPO language of proceedings. This compensation system too will be administered by the EPO.
The details of the procedure to request and validate a unitary patent, as well as the level of renewal fees and the key under which the fees will be distributed to the participating states, will be prepared by the select committee of the Administrative Council of the European Patent Organisation.
The unitary patent may be requested from 1 January 2014 or from the date of the entry into force of the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court.