It feels like we’ve walked this very same path before, but it appears that our destination of a unitary European patent system is finally in sight. On November 19, 2012, the Council of the European Union reached agreement on a proposal creating a unitary patent for 25 of the 27 member countries (Spain and Italy being the holdouts), the language regime governing the patent, and a single patent court system to oversee all litigation.

Under the current system, official fees for a European patent average over 36,000 Euros, making protection prohibitive for many applicants. In comparison, fees for a US patent average about 1,850 Euros. Under the proposed unitary system, a patent will cost 6,425 Euros during the 12-year transitional period and drop to 4,725 Euros afterwards – a significant price reduction for those seeking European patent protection.

We’ve certainly been close to a single European patent before, and this current proposal is not without its criticisms. Proponents to the new system maintain that the most recent proposal resolves most, if not all, of the outstanding issues. Public opinion recognizes that although the proposed unitary patent system is not perfect, it is far better than the status quo.

The European Council is scheduled to adopt the proposed system on December 10, 2012, with the Parliament following suit shortly afterwards. It the proposal passes without a hitch, the system could be adopted by December 21, 2012 with an agreement for the patent court system signed on February 18, 2013. Once the new system is up and running, the first EU patents are expected to be granted in April of 2014.

Although it seems like we’re in the homestretch with a sizable lead, the outcome of this race will not be determined until that finish line is crossed. The next few months will be critical in the creation of this much anticipated unitary EU patent. Stay tuned.

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