Government, Law, and Technology

Mitchell law IP attorney looks at the EU's new unitary patent law

December 25, 2012
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Mitchell law IP attorney breaks down the EU's new unitary patent law
The European Union flag. Photo via fb.com

It’s been a long time coming, but, beginning in 2014, the 27 countries that make up the European Union will implement a unitary patent covering all of Europe.

“The World Intellectual Property Organization, located in Geneva, Switzerland, has been pressing for this kind of legislation for years,” said James Mitchell, attorney with Grand Rapids-based Mitchell Intellectual Property Law. “It’s been debated in the European Parliament for years. The resistance is that each of these little countries likes the idea of getting revenue every time a patent application is filed in their country and then every year thereafter. Plus, they have their own local patent attorneys that like to get the business. There’s a lot of resistance to a single unitary patent for all of Europe, which we, of course, have in the United States. We have a single patent for the entire country.”

Mitchell said the move has the potential to save patent filers up to $100,000 over the life of the patent.

Under current law, although a single European patent application can be filed for $5,000, a separate fee must be paid to each country within the European Union where the filer wants the patent to be protected and enforceable. Additionally, there is an annual maintenance fee on the patent in each country, and there are often translation fees that must be paid as well.

Most filers do not extend their patent to all 27 European countries, leaving them without protection in parts of Europe.

Mitchell said he expects filing for patents will increase due to the change.

“This is the most major news since we changed our patent law,” Mitchell said.

In March 2013, the United States will switch from a first-to-invent country to a first-to-file country.

“In the United States, if you have two people file on the same invention, the patent goes to the first inventor,” Mitchell said. “In Europe and most other countries in the world, if you have two people file on the same invention, the patent goes to the one who is the first to follow, as a general rule.”

The European Patent Office is working out the details and will likely develop educational programs to explain the new patent law.

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