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Reviewed 27 June 2011

UK business set to benefit from simpler and cheaper patent system for Europe

A single European patent looks ever more likely as ministers reached important agreements on the detail of a unitary patent at the Competitiveness Council in Luxembourg today.

For the first time in 60 years, ministers have agreed on the languages regime for the patent - the number of translations which applicants need to file to get their patent. This is a significant achievement for the UK, the Hungarian Presidency and the Commission. They also agreed on the technical details of the patent itself.

As a result it will be easier and cheaper to register patents, with far fewer translations required than at present. The availability of a single patent for the European market will be an incentive for innovation and will enhance the competitiveness of European businesses.

Speaking at the Competitiveness Council in Luxembourg, UK Intellectual Property Minister Baroness Wilcox said:

"The creation of a single European patent and patent court is crucial for UK industry. We support a European patent system which gives real benefits for business, consumers and the economy. It is vital to offer businesses the same access to patent protection in their home market of Europe, as competitors in the US, China and Japan enjoy in theirs."

"A unitary patent and court system will save businesses time and money whether they are patent holders or those seeking to challenge patents. The savings to UK business are likely to be around £20 million per year in translations costs alone."

Agreement of these two regulations, one establishing the patent and one on the language regime for the patent, will radically reduce the cost of translating patents in Europe by up to 80 per cent. This will also allow any company or individual to protect their inventions through a single European patent valid in 25 countries.

A recent independent review of Intellectual Property and Growth by Professor Ian Hargreaves found that establishing a unitary patent would remove IP barriers between EU countries and could increase UK national income by over £2 billion a year by 2020.

Notes to editors

  • Ministers agreed general approaches on the Regulations, and they will be finally adopted later in the year. The current text ensures that the Regulations will come into effect when the unitary patent court is set up.
  • Currently, businesses seeking Europe-wide patent protection can either apply for national patents in each country separately or they can apply to the European Patent Office (EPO) for a European Patent under the European Patent Convention (EPC). These European Patents are bundles of national patents which must be litigated in each state and, in most cases, translated into each national language.
  • A single European patent was first mentioned approximately 60 years ago but it has so far failed to materialise mainly due to disagreement on the languages for the patent. On 10 March 2011, 25 EU countries agreed to go ahead using a procedure known as enhanced cooperation in order to make create unitary patent protection among a significant number of Member States. The EU patent is now known as the unitary patent.
  • The unitary patent would be a special form of European Patent, with uniform effect across the participating states. National and European (bundle) Patents would continue to be available.
  • The recent Independent review of IP and Growth PDF document(1.38Mb) by Professor Ian Hargreaves recommended that the UK "should attach the highest immediate priority to achieving a unified EU patent court and EU patent system which promises significant economic benefits to UK business".

Date of release: 27 June 2011