After more than 40 years of discussions, the European Parliament today voted in favour of the “EU patent package,” hot on the heels of the European Council’s approval yesterday.  The EU patent package will create a Unitary EU Patent i.e. a uniform patent which will have equal effect and will be granted, transferred and enforced in a unitary way in most of Europe.  Unitary EU Patents will be granted through the existing European Patent Office, but a new court system will be set up to enforce these patents.

The Unitary EU Patent will, in time, replace the current system of European Patents which – after grant – operate as independent national patents in up to 38 countries.

Today’s vote represents a major political breakthrough, and it is now highly likely that the package will be implemented, although the international agreement creating a unified patent court still requires ratification by individual European countries in order to come into effect.  The EU patent package will enter into force on 1 January 2014 or after 13 European countries have ratified it, whichever is the latest.  The 13 ratifying countries must include the UK, France and Germany.  Spain and Italy have so far decided not to participate in the EU patent package, but are free to opt back in at any time.  The European Commission anticipates that the European Patent Office will grant the first Unitary EU Patent in 2014.  

The new regime reduces the translation requirements involved in obtaining patent protection across Europe.  Patent applications need to be filed in English, French or German, and no translations are required in order to validate the patent, which should make the process to grant cheaper and quicker.

It is hoped that the new unitary patent court will make patent litigation more affordable for SMEs, allow patentees to obtain pan-European injunctions and damages awards, and reduce forum-shopping in Europe.

While the objective of the EU patent package is almost universally endorsed, many including the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (AIPPI) and the Intellectual Property Judges Association (IPJA) objected to the current form of the EU patent package and had asked for more time to work on the details of the proposed litigation system.  Despite the various objections, a sizeable majority of the European Parliament voted in favour of each of the three elements of the EU patent package today, and it is expected that the Unitary Patent Regulation will be adopted later this month, and the Treaty Establishing the Unified Patent Court will be signed in February 2013.