Celebrating a milestone for inventors – One year of the Unitary Patent

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 June, 2024 at 4:29 pm by Andre Camilleri

One year since the landmark launch of the Unitary Patent, António Campinos, president of the European Patent Office, talks about its progress and success with European inventors

One year ago, following more than half a century of negotiations, Europe took its first steps towards becoming a single market for technology. What was the new status ushering in the launch of the Unitary Patent?

The Unitary Patent is the most significant advancement in the legal protection of inventions in Europe in half a century. The groundbreaking development marked a deepening of Europe’s economic integration, complementing its single market. For the first time, inventors – whether individuals, small businesses or large corporations and everything in between – were able to secure automatic uniform patent protection for their inventions.

How many countries will be benefitting from this legal protection? And how does the Unitary Patent work?

The uniform patent will be in 17 European countries, representing an overall market of more than 400 million people. This is thanks to an integrated and streamlined system: a single patent, for a single application process, for a single renewal fee, in a single currency, under a single law, and enforceable before the Unified Patent Court as sole litigation platform. A simplicity that belies many years of complex legal and diplomatic wrangling.  

What is the impact of closing a decisive gap in Europe’s intellectual property landscape on businesses, particularly in relation to their US and Asian counterparts?

Crucially, it has closed a decisive gap in the architecture of Europe’s intellectual property landscape, levelling the playing field for businesses, ensuring they could compete on par with their US and Asian counterparts in terms of market size and consumers. 

How has the introduction of the Unitary Patent affected Europe’s patent system?

Designed with accessibility in mind, the Unitary Patent threw the doors of Europe’s patent system wide open with a simpler, more affordable path to patent protection. For the first 10 years, which is the average lifetime of a European patent, the aggregate annual fees for maintaining a Unitary Patent are less than €5,000, and if the patent holder opts for 20 years of protection a Unitary Patent is 78% cheaper than a corresponding European patent covering all 27 EU member states.

How has the Unitary Patent alleviated the financial and administrative burdens for inventors?

We know that far too few inventors from smaller scale entities, like SMEs and universities, engage with the patent system. This means their groundbreaking inventions could have potentially never made it to the market. Imagine a world where the radio remained a prototype in Marconi’s attic or a world where breakthroughs like insulin and pasteurisation had never left the lab…. How much worse off we’d all be?

Why this evolution has been so necessary cannot be overstated. We live in a time of record-breaking temperatures, of increasingly urgent sustainable development goals and a rapidly evolving technology landscape, driven by advances in deep tech and AI.

To ensure these technologies thrive in the market and benefit our societies, we must provide incentives. Patents are pivotal in translating ideas into new technologies and commercial success, giving investors the confidence to fund research and development with the prospect of societal and economical returns.

How do patents create opportunities and help SMEs, startups, research institutions and universities to connect and find suitable partners?

Patents not only create opportunities for licensing and technology transfer but help institutions mentioned above to connect and find suitable partners. To illustrate this point, our joint research with the EUIPO shows that startups that own patents and trademarks are 10 times more successful in securing funding during their initial seed or early growth stages.

The call for a patent system that balances accessibility with high quality patents, one that encourages and protects new technologies from a broad spectrum of inventors, has never been more crucial.

Has it really been the game-changer we anticipated it would be, or has it fallen short?  

So, with a full year of Unitary Patent experience already behind us, now is a good time to consider what impact it has had in increasing accessibility into the system.

In terms of user adoption, the Unitary Patent has exceeded expectations. In April of this year, the European Patent Office hit a milestone with 25,000 registered Unitary Patents since its launch in June of last year.  

To put that into perspective, around one in every four patents granted by the EPO since June 2023 has been converted into a Unitary Patent upon request by the applicant. According to the most optimistic scenarios, this outcome was expected to be reached only two years after the launch.

From where are the patents being requested?

Moreover the vast majority – around two-thirds – hail from inside the EU. This compared with the 43% share of total applications filed by European firms with the EPO in all of 2023. In the top 25 requesters for Unitary Patent protection, 16 are European companies.  

But what’s even more striking than the raw number of applications is the nature of the applicants submitting them. European SMEs, startups and individual inventors account for more than a third of all requests for Unitary Patents filed by Europeans in 2023, compared to around a quarter of all European patent applications filed in the same year.

All things considered, it’s fair to say that the Unitary Patent system has enjoyed a strong start and we have every reason to believe that its success will grow further still in the months and years ahead. There are a number of reasons for optimism.

What is the way forward for the Unitary Patent system?

Firstly, the expected addition of more EU member states, such as Romania in the very near future, will enhance its standing among inventors of all backgrounds as an effective vehicle for advancing invention and simplifying patent protection right across the European single market.  

Moreover, we are already seeing the impact of the Unified Patent Court, which has received hundreds of cases so far. The harmonisation effect of the court’s jurisprudence is crucial for establishing legal certainty and transparency within the new system, and provides users with the much-needed predictability for their investments.

The Unitary Patent’s continued success isn’t just about economic growth; it strikes to the very core of our society’s collective desire for a more sustainable future. Technology, supported by accessible and robust patent protection, is what’s going to help us get there – not forgetting, of course, our own human behaviour.

More than anything else, the Unitary Patent shows that when Europe unites behind common interests, combines best practices and listens to the needs of business and society, it can compete globally.

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