At the end of June 2015, a special committee of the Administrative Council of the European Patent Organisation will make a decision on the structure and level of the annual renewal fees to be paid to maintain a Unitary Patent in effect.
The European Commission is an observer at this Committee and has always maintained that the cost of the Unitary Patent must be set at an attractive level as part of its general strategy to help the competitiveness of European businesses.
To address the concerns of parties interested in the current discussions on fees, Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska asked the Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs to organise a workshop to find out what their expectations were.
Participants at the workshop represented various sectors, types of users and businesses, and came from different countries.
During the workshop, three large companies and three small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) testified on their own practice of innovation and patent portfolio management and presented their views on the implications for the renewal fees of the unitary patent.
The European business associations Eurochambres, BusinessEurope, PIN-SME, UEAPME and EPI (representing patent attorneys) also expressed their views.
A view from academia was provided by Professor Bruno van Pottelsberge, Dean of the Solvay School of Economics and Management. He presented his research and moderated the debate.
The workshop initiative was fruitful and well received. The views expressed were remarkably unanimous, all indicating that renewal fees are the essential cost factor when it comes to patent protection in the EU - any decision to patent is primarily cost driven, and essentially by the renewal fee levels.
Users also indicated that whilst the unitary patent offers potential savings on 'external costs' (such as translation and other administrative costs, and patent attorney fees), these costs will in fact remain of a limited magnitude in regard to users' current average practice.
For the unitary patent to represent considerable savings for users, the focus has to be on setting truly cost-attractive renewal fees. The view was unanimous, from the largest to the smallest companies as well as from associations that the unitary patent will not be taken up if the fee level is set to be higher than the equivalent of the sum of the current renewal fees demanded today to maintain a patent in three or four of the countries most chosen for patent registration (i.e. Germany, France, the UK and the Netherlands).
Finally, representatives from SMEs insisted that it was very important that specific account be taken of the challenges faced by innovative SMEs, and pleaded strongly in favour of a specific rebate for such entities.
The importance of unitary patent renewal fee levels
The unitary patent is being introduced as part of a 'patent package' that is set to provide innovators in Europe with quicker, more effective and affordable patent protection in the EU. The package comprises two tools:
- the unitary title, the European patent with unitary effect (the 'Unitary Patent'), that will provide 'blanket' protection in a single application;
- a Unified Patent Court - a single jurisdiction adjudicating on European patent disputes in the EU.
The last legal challenge on the validity of the patent package was dismissed by the Court of Justice of the European Union on 5 May 2015, clearing the way towards its rapid implementation. A decision on the level of renewal fees to be paid to maintain a Unitary patent into effect is one of the last key steps in this implementationl.