The European Patent Office announced this month that the long-awaited EU patent will be launched this year and that the court responsible for enforcing the Unitary Patent would be ready to operate by 1 December. The Unified Patent court is essential for the new system and must be ratified by at least 13 member states, including Germany, France and Britain who share the court’s split seat.
So far, 12 countries have completed the ratification process, with signatures still required from Germany and the UK. Berlin is expected to conclude the ratification process before the summer, while the UK has committed to conclude the process despite the activitation of Article 50. The UK’s membership of the unitary patent could be short-lived. However, EPO President, Benoît Battistelli, is “convinced” that a solution can be found “to make the unitary patent continue to be valid within the UK, even in the case of ‘hard Brexit’ and no direct access to the single market”.
It is predicted that the number of patent applications will increase after the unitary patent comes into force, especially from SMEs, as it will be easier and cheaper for smaller companies to apply for an EU-wide patent. Against this background, the EPO announced that there was an “unprecedented surge” in the volume of patents granted in 2016, from 68 419 to 95 940, representing a 40.2% increase.