The European patent with unitary effect or, shortly, the unitary patent is an alternative to the existing process of validating a European patent in individual countries. It is therefore not a ‘new’ patent, but an option to extend the validity of a granted European patent across all UPC countries in a single stroke.
The unitary patent is a single (indivisible) legal title extending to all UPC countries. This means that the unitary patent cannot be transferred in part. This also means that the unitary patent can only be enforced in a centralized court (the UPC). The UPC is also the only court where a holder of a unitary patent can start an infringement case. Within the opposition period (9 months from the grant of the European patent), third parties can request revocation of the unitary patent before the EPO. After the expiry of the opposition period, the UPC will also be the only court where revocation proceedings can be started against a unitary patent. A decision of the UPC will have effect for all UPC countries.
The Unified Patent Court is a new European patent court. The UPC is the specialized court handling litigation on European patents and unitary patents (for a transition period until 2030 still together with national courts). With the advent of the UPC, litigation for all countries that have ratified the UPC Agreement (the UPC countries) is centralized in a single European court.
A decision of the UPC is binding on all UPC countries. The UPC has jurisdiction over all existing and future European patents in force in one or more UPC countries, except for European patents where the patent holder has filed a so-called opt out. Such excluded European patents remain under the jurisdiction of national courts alone.
The European Commission considers patents a vital element of the Internal Market to achieve growth through innovation and increase the international competitiveness of European business. It considered that the efficiency, affordability and legal certainty of the patent system should be enhanced. Thereto, a pan-European patent protection and dispute settlement was to be created, based on two pillars: a European Union patent (the unitary patent) and a unified jurisdiction for patent disputes (the UPC).
A patent application or patent includes information about the applicant and inventor, the date of filing, status of the application, and the countries or regions in which the patent application has been filed and granted. Of course, the invention itself is also in the patent. Besides information about the subject matter and the invention, you can also read what falls under the scope of protection of the patent. The last aspect is determined by the claims in the patent.
On the ‘A detailed look at a patent’ page, you will find an example of a patent with an explanation.
Yes, patents provide the broadest protection on software because they protect a principle of operation or concept, for a maximum period of 20 years. A patent gives you the exclusive rights to exclude others from copying, using, importing, and selling a patented innovation. It is a powerful right that can only be obtained when an innovation can be regarded as contributing to technical progress. See 'Obtaining a patent on software'.
Your software and app source code may be protected under copyright law. However, this only provides a limited scope of protection, because only an identical or close copy will infringe. To apply for a patent, software inventions need to be regarded as a 'technical' invention. There may be aspects of the software applications that are critical for your inventive concept and can be identified as truly technical and can therefore be patented.
There are various forms of IP rights available to protect your software apps. Some rights are automatically obtained upon creation, other rights are obtained by simple registration or are filed and subjected to examination before a right is obtained. The most relevant types of protection and the important points of interest are: patent, copyright, database law, trademark, design right.
There are various types of patent searches. The most commonly used search types are: novelty search, infringement search, validity search, patent monitoring, landscaping, and bibliographic searches.
You can read more about these on the ‘Various types of patent searches’ page.
The UPC and unitary patent system were established as of 1 June 2023.
Here too, the rules about what is and what is not permitted vary slightly in different countries.
In the Netherlands, research purposes are exempted from the scope of patent protection for something that has been patented in Section 53(3) of the Patents Act 1995 (ROW 1995). This is known as the research exemption. It is for the courts to determine when something is considered as research and is covered by this exemption. For instance, research is not restricted to academic purposes, and may also be carried out by commercial organizations. In general, much research, such as research into an as yet unknown application or an improved variant, falls under the research exemption. Research into whether commercial application is possible is generally covered by the research exemption. However, research for obtaining a required marketing authorization usually does not fall within the scope of the research exemption. You are advised to consult a specialist before embarking on any research if you think you may need the research exemption.
In Belgium, Section XI.34 of the Code of Economic Law provides clarity about the protection that is not granted by a patent. Subsection b reads as follows: actions that are performed on and/or with the object of the patent application, for research purposes. It means that it is possible to conduct research with a patented chemical, as long as the research is purely academic and not for commercial purposes. This is a specific example of the essential purpose of a patent. A patent allows a patent holder to benefit from a commercial monopoly in exchange for the disclosure of his or her invention. Thanks to this disclosure, non-patent holders are able to use the knowledge about the invention for research purposes.
In Germany, if the patented chemical can be purchased, it is possible to carry out research on the chemical, and the patent right is then exhausted. Furthermore, Section 11(2) of the Patent Act permits experimental activities related to the subject matter of patented inventions. There are no limits to the purpose of the experiment or research, and it may be for academic and industrial purposes. In any event, it is advisable to consult an expert before starting the research.