What is the Unitary Patent (UP) and Unified Patent Court (UPC)?
A European patent with unitary effect or Unitary Patent (UP) is based on a European patent granted by the EPO under the rules and procedures of the European Patent Convention (EPC). The Unitary Patent is a single right that covers all participating UP Member States, which are a subset of the member states of the EPO. Only a single annual renewal fee is required to cover the included states.
The goal of the UP is to decrease the costs and complexities related to validating a European Patent in the member countries. The UP achieves this through a single renewal fee payment, reducing translation costs, and removing the need for representation at the national level. While the single annual renewal is a benefit for filers, there is some risk as a single court decision, e.g., on infringement and/or validity, applies across all participating UP Member States, rather than just in one country.
The Unified Patent Court (UPC) was created by international treaty to handle invalidity and infringement actions related to UP and EP patents. Patentees are therefore able to bring a single infringement action to the UPC for pan-European infringements, while third parties are able to seek centralized revocation of the UP. The existing EP opposition procedures will also affect the validity of Unitary Patents.
You can find more information about Unitary Patents and the Unified Patent court on the EPO website: https://www.epo.org/applying/european/unitary.html.
Identifying Patents Which Have Requested Unitary Protection
For EP grants where the UP is registered, a C0 marker record is created. The C0 record is not a published document, but rather a file container for UP data which contains information such as the list of countries covered, the date of registration, and legal status events. We typically receive C0 markers from DOCDB on Wednesdays. These can be identified by searching for documents where the country code is EP and the kind code is C0. They can also be found using the application number for the document of interest.
Here is an example of the first lines of XML in a C0 marker record:
Identifying Where the UP is in Effect
To identify where the Unitary Patent is in effect, look within the
international-convention-data/designated-states section of the C0 marker XML. The
ep-up-participating-states are the countries that are part of the UP at the time of registration. The UP annual fee will therefore apply to these countries.
Legal Events Related to Unitary Patents
Legal event codes related to the UP are in the legal status section of the C0 marker record. They can also be found in the legal status section of any related application and/or granted record having the same application number. At this time, the expected time frame for delivery of legal event codes is not consistent. The two event codes currently appearing most frequently related to the UP in the database are U01 and U07. As other new UP-related legal event codes are delivered by the EPO, they will be added to the legal status section.
U01: The event indicating that a request for Unitary Effect has been filed.
U07: The event indicating that a Unitary Patent has been registered. This includes a list of the countries which the patent covers and the effective date of the grant.
The Unified Patent Court and Opting Out of the Unified Patent Court
The Unified Patent Court (UPC) has jurisdiction over the settlement of disputes for both European patents and Unitary Patents. This jurisdiction is however subject to exceptions: cases may still be brought before national courts, and patentees of European patents may opt out from the UPC's jurisdiction. If a patentee does not submit an opt-out request, they may be subject to invalidity and infringement proceedings under the jurisdiction of the UPC.
P01 is one of the event codes relating to opting out, but there are additional codes associated with opting out of the UPC. These codes appear on the B document and other documents with the same application number.
Additional Legal Status Codes Related to the UP and UPC
U01, U07, and P01 are only a few of the potential codes related to the UP and UPC. Many more codes have been reserved by the EPO for use related to the Unitary Patent and Unified Patent Court. The additional codes typically have either "UPC" or "Unitary Effect" in the description text. The most up-to-date list of legal event codes produced by the EPO can be found here: https://www.epo.org/searching-for-patents/data/coverage/weekly.html.
What's Next for Unitary Patents in CLAIMS Direct?
We have started to review the effect Unitary Patents will have on IFI Snapshots, including the IFI Patent Status and other fields derived by IFI. Snapshot calculations for both the B and C0 records are in the process of being reviewed and will be updated as soon as possible.