The Unified Patent Court (UPC) has been a long time coming with several years of uncertainty. Although the UPC Agreement was first signed in 2013, the UK’s withdrawal in 2020 and three separate German constitutional challenges have all threatened the existence of the UPC.
However, the UPC has now come into force. This means that Unitary Patents (UP) can now be granted by the European Patent Office (EPO), and the UPC has opened as a fully operational court.
Unitary Patents and the Unified Patent Court are the most significant changes to the European patent system for several decades. Existing European patents, once granted by the EPO, are converted into a bundle of separate national patents which are subject to renewal, invalidation and enforcement on an individual basis in each territory. In contrast, Unitary Patents will provide a single, uniform patent that covers all 24 participating EU Member States. Unitary Patents will be renewed by the payment of a single fee, as well as being invalidated and enforced centrally at the UPC. A fundamental feature of the Unitary Patent system is that it is an “all or nothing” approach. This has the result that if a Unitary Patent is revoked or lapses, it will cease to exist automatically across all 24 member states; it cannot be in force for only some of the member states.