As of 2014, inventors will be able to apply for one patent in 25 member states across Europe instead of registering their invention in each country individually, after years of wrangling over where the adjudicating court will be based.
Under the new system, the EU patent court will have its headquarters in Paris, mechanical engineering arm in Munich and pharmaceuticals and chemistry in London. So far only Spain and Italy have opted out of the agreement.
Business Secretary Vince Cable welcomed the move, saying: “The reduced translation costs and simplified enforcement regime will help to support innovative companies and make an important contribution to growth across Europe.”
However, Tim Roberts, a former president of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, warned it was “very doubtful” that a unitary patent would make it cheaper for inventors to protect their ideas, since most only pick a handful of key markets anyway, although conceded that it might make it easier for them to enforce their patents.
“The one key advantage is that this provides a new means of enforcing intellectual property – that might prove cheaper than existing arrangements. But there’s a long well to go. We shall have to see how it plays out – there’s still a lot that can go wrong,” he said.
Mr Roberts also warned that high renewal fees that come with the single patent could be an issue for some small companies and John Mitchell, chairman of the SME Innovation Alliance, an inventors’ body, expressed scepticism over whether a central court will improve access to enforcement.
He said: “Delays measured in years look to be the inevitable result and high costs are not covered,” suggesting that small firms will struggle to afford the cost of defending their ideas against infringers. However, there is a possibility of small companies getting beneficial terms for access to the new court but nothing has been confirmed yet.