Single EU Patent
European Union (EU) officials agreed in June 2012 to introduce a single or "unitary" EU patent. This new system, targeted for 2017, will cut the expense of obtaining multiple patents in Europe.
Currently, the European Patent Office ("EPO") provides a single application process but only to a point. A Patent Examiner conducts a patentability search but the EPO does not issue any patent. If the Examiner determines a claim is patentable, the Applicant then can elect to pay registration fees in the EU countries where patents are sought. The new system will bypass the national phase and allow a unitary European patent to issue, covering 24 member countries.
Registering a patent in the EU is currently far more expensive than in the U.S., because a patent must be taken out in many countries rather than with one EU agency.
The European Patent Office estimates that a unitary EU patent could cut the registration costs by two thirds or more. The EPO will not only conduct the initial search but also issue the single patent.
It will also cost less to maintain a unitary EU patent. The current system requires periodic maintenance payments in each EU country where a national patent issued. Under the new system, only one set of maintenance fees will have to be paid.
There will be a Unified Patent Court for governing the unitary patents and judging patent infringement litigations. Whether that leads to delays remains to be seen.