The unitary patent (UP) offers a new alternative alongside the classic European patent to protect inventions in Europe. The unitary patent system enables the patent holder to gain a patent valid in all the countries participating in the system at the same time. Unitary Patent disputes will be settled by the Unified Patent Court, which makes it possible to address patent disputes with legal bearing across the whole of Europe.
European patent, but with a unitary effect
A classic European patent has to be separately validated in each of the European Patent Convention (EPC) contracting states after the grant of the patent, whereas a unitary patent is valid in all the countries participating in the new patent system at the same time. The unitary patent will be a regional, supranational alternative to the current European patents and national patents; it will provide a geographically comprehensive and unitary protection for your invention.
From 1 June 2023, there will be 17 EU member states in the unitary patent system: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Sweden. Further EU member states will gradually be included.
The European Patent Office (EPO) will grant both classic European patents and unitary patents. The application procedure at the EPO will not change. After a European patent is granted, you can request that it will be registered as a unitary patent.
The current European patent system will be maintained alongside the unitary patent system. This will enable you to limit the patent protection to certain specific countries if this is the best and most cost-effective solution for you. Read more about the European patent.
Unified Patent Court and opt-out
In the future, disputes over unitary patents and classic European patents, which are dealt with in national courts at the moment, will be litigated by the Unified Patent Court (UPC). This means that a dispute will be resolved in one go for all the countries that are party to the UPC.
Holders of European patents will have the option to exclude their patent from the scope of UPC litigation. In these situations, disputes will be litigated in the court of each country as they are today. This opt-out requires a notification to the UPC. The notification can be filed three months before the system starts or at any time within the seven-year transitional period after the start. However, an opt-out notification cannot be filed if an action has already been brought before the UPC in respect of the patent. Read more on the Unified Patent Court website about filing an opt-out. Open link in a new tab
The UPC will have central divisions in Paris and Munich. Due to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU, the planned location of the central division in London has to be moved. Moreover, local and regional divisions have been set up by countries that are party to the UPC. The Court of Appeal will have its seat in Luxembourg.
A local division will be set up in Finland, which would allow disputes over unitary patents to be litigated in the country. Go to the UPC website for more information.Open link in a new tab
Effects on the operating environment for businesses in Finland
At present, there are just over 50,000 European patents and national patents valid in Finland. Along with the unitary patent system, the number of patents in Finland will increase over the years. As patents confer the exclusive right to use them commercially, the increasing number of patents can limit companies' freedom of action in Finland. This will also increase the possibility of patent infringements, which should be considered even more carefully in the future.
Therefore, companies should follow their competitors’ patenting, even if they did not actively protect their own inventions by patenting. The European Patent Office maintains a register of the granted unitary patents where anyone can browse them freely. Go to European Patent RegisterOpen link in a new tab.
The Confederation of Finnish Industries and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment have drafted a paper discussing the impacts of the unitary patent system on Finnish businesses. The paper also describes the main features of the system reform. Go to the report on the website of Confederation of Finnish Industries.Open link in a new tab