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Unitary patent: little benefit to SMEs?

The European Union is set to introduce a common patent, known as the Unitary patent. Unlike the current European patent, whereby countries are designated separately, the Unitary patent will apply concurrently in practically every single member state.

The idea was that applying for a patent needed to become cheaper. But will it work out like that in reality? The editing team put this question to three people from the field: Koen Bijvank, Patent Attorney at V.O., Henk Meima, Patent Information/Business Intelligence Specialist at Avebe Commerce, and André Stijns, Audit Manager at Thomas Regout.

Koen Bijvank: “Not cheaper after all”
Many companies only actually have adequate protection in a few European countries. Maintaining a Unitary patent on an annual basis will probably be more expensive than the annual maintenance fees you pay in the small number of countries where a European patent is generally maintained. At the same time, I would also like to mention one of the finer points. There is pressure, nevertheless, to make the new Unitary patent attractive to business, the crucial spearhead being low annual maintenance fees.

Henk Meima: “Additional costs”
At first it seems beneficial for SMEs to make use of the Unitary patent system from a cost perspective. However, the costs lie not only in filing the patent application with the European Patent Office. Additional costs, such as those for hiring a patent attorney, will still be a factor with the Unitary patent as well. And it doesn’t stop there. The next stage – the assessment of a patent application on patentability – remains the same and will also determine a significant part of the costs to be borne.

André Stijns: “Little benefit”
The expectation is that a common patent will entail annual fees that are around five to six times higher than the average annual fee per country. As a company, we are highly selective as to where we apply for a patent, usually in three or four EU countries. If we then applied for a Unitary patent, we wouldn’t really achieve much in terms of savings or it will turn out even more expensive. One advantage is that you actually spend less money on translations, because only three languages are required: French, German and English. The real benefits are mainly for companies that file applications in nearly all member states of the EU patent, for example. This is typically the case for larger firms; for small and medium-sized companies, this wouldn’t really be applicable.

For the current status of the unitary patent and the UPC, please refer to our Dossier. 

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