EU: the unitary patent
What is the unitary patent?
Currently, a person or company who wants a monopoly on an idea across the European Union must apply for a patent in all 27 member states individually.
A single market where people and goods can move freely across borders is one of the central ideas of the European Union. In practice, many restrictions still exist. The need to apply for a patent in each member state, rather than just once, is often seen as such a restriction. Patent holders resent the need to have their applications translated into each member state's national language, and comply with the different rules in each country.
For years, the European Commission and others have been trying to build a patent system that covers the entire European Union, known as the "unitary patent".
This process has proved surprisingly difficult. EU member states have argued about all sorts of things. For a while, a row about which languages patent applications could be filed in under the new, unitary system held things up.
Another stumbling block was removed in June 2012, when the European Council finally agreed on where the new system's offices should be placed.
Why is the unitary patent a problem?
A single European patent system would presumably make things more efficient for patent holders, and for people applying to them. But the devil is in the details.
The current proposal has the following problems:
- No due process: Under the current proposal, the EPO not only awards the patent, but also gets to make the final decision on whether it remains valid when someone complains. The EPO court also lacks a broader perspective of the social costs of patents.
- We demand that the European Court of Justice must be the final court of appeal for patent complaints.
- Patents on software: Software patents are seriously hurting Europe's technology companies. The EPO has been granting software patents for decades, even though they are illegal under the European Patent Convention. The unitary patent would make this problem worse.
- We demand that the current proposal should explicitely exclude computer programs from patentability. A computer program is not a patentable invention just because it runs on generic data processing hardware.
- Giving up on innovation policy: Patents are a tool to promote innovation. Europe needs a more active innovation policy. Under the current proposal, the EU is handing over part of its sovereignty to an organisation that it has no control over - the EPO.
- We demand that the power to set Europe's innovation policy must rest with the democratically elected European Parliament.
While our concerns remain unchanged, the unitary patent is no longer on the agenda of the Legal Affairs committee for its meeting on September 17 and 18. We expect the issue to be discussed later in the autumn of 2012.
We will continue to provide updates on this issue.
Call an MEP
Doing this is easy. Find an MEP from your country in the Legal Affairs committee, and tell them about our demands. You can use this website to identify and to call them. Here, you will also find call scripts to help you along.
Companies: Share your concern about the unitary patent with your MEPs
Please consider supporting a resolution against software patents and the current proposal for the unitary patent.
If you want to contact an MEP to tell him/her about our demands and how the unitary patent might harm your activity, you can find a model letter here.
More articles on this topic
- How the European patent system works by Karsten Gerloff. September 5, 2012
- Software patents in Europe: game on by Karsten Gerloff. September 4, 2012