For more than a decade, the concept of a European patent with “unitary effect” has been negotiated, legislated, discussed, and anticipated. Regulators are now targeting a start date of April 1, 2023 to implement the rules and regulations governing the Unitary Patent System and its judicial offspring, the Unitary Patent Court. From that date forward, applicants at the European Patent Office (“EPO”) will have the option to request “unitary effect” of patent applications granted by the EPO.

Those familiar with the process will know that not much will change during the application stage. This is because the EPO already offers centralized examination of patent applications. However, under the current regulations, once a patent application is approved by the EPO, it is converted into a “bundle” of national rights that must be validated, maintained, and enforced separately in each state that is a member of the European Patent Convention. This can be a complex and expensive undertaking. The Unitary Patent System and Unitary Patent Court will simplify this process by affording patent owners the ability to centrally maintain and enforce a single patent right that is effective in many countries.

Of course, there are benefits and drawbacks to be considered when requesting unitary effect of an EPO patent application. For example, the geographic reach of the unitary patent may initially only be available in the 25 states in that are in “enhanced cooperation” with the EPO. On the other hand, a regular EPO application can be validated in up to 39 member states, including some non-EU countries such as the UK, Switzerland, and Turkey. The firm works closely with colleagues in Europe to advise its clients on these and other issues affecting their global intellectual property portfolios.