26 June 2015 - No comments »
Since March 2013, the Select Committee of EPO Administrative Council, composed of 25 EU Member States, has been tasked to adopt the necessary measures for the implementation of the Unitary patent protection whose management has been entrusted to the EPO. One of the essential tasks falling under the Committee’s remit has been to agree the level of renewal fees applicable to the unitary patent. It has been a subject of careful consideration for all involved. On the one hand, and as a matter of priority, we had to ensure that the fees were sufficiently low so as to prove attractive to the users of the patent system. On the other, there existed the need to generate resources for the sound administration of the patent.
Hence it is far from an easy task to find the appropriate level of fees to be considered for the legal protection of an invention in a territory covering 25 EU Member States. There is actually no real correspondence between the size of the different national markets and the set of fees defined by each government. Some big countries have rather low renewal fees while some smaller markets are relatively more expensive. On the top of that, the Unitary Patent protection will coexist with the current European patent protection which users tend to validate in only 3 to 4 European countries on average.
I am therefore delighted that the Unitary Patent took another significant step towards becoming a reality this week when, on 24 June, members of the Select Committee agreed on a proposal of the Office on the renewal fees to be applied to the unitary patent. This ‘True Top 4’ proposal covers the territory of 25 EU Member States and corresponds to the total sum of the renewal fees currently paid for the four most frequently validated countries by the holders of European patents (Germany, France, UK, the Netherlands). It represents a real cost saving to the user, which is of particular importance for the SMEs and universities, and also provides sufficient means for the EPO and the Member States.
This first step concerning the set of fees will be an essential part of a package comprising the distribution key of income generated by the unitary patent and to be shared between the participating member states. This second decision of the Select Committee should be reached during the autumn. By the end of the year the different stakeholders will have then a clear vision about all the features of the UPP whose concrete availability to them will just depend on the pace of the ratification of the treaty for the Unified Patent Court.
Indeed, while the Select Committee is finalising arrangements for the administration of the unitary patent, I am hopeful that some countries will foster their national process so that with six more ratifications the minimum of 13 participants can be reached quickly (seven countries have already ratified the treaty).
Thanks to these progresses on the unitary patent and a unified patent court that has increasing support from member states, I remain confident that we will see the first unitary patent in 2016. With a significantly less expensive protection for inventions and a specialized patent litigation system, Europe, which already enjoys a high quality and centralized patent granting process with the EPO, creates the conditions to become a unique market place for the development and protection of innovation.