The European Patent Organisation is the second largest multi-national patent organization in the world. Through one of its two organs, the European Patent Office (EPO), applicants can submit a single patent application that can be the basis for obtain patent protection in 39 member states.

All of the European Union’s 27 members are contracting states with the EPO. The EPO also includes 12 additional European countries. One European country has signed an extension agreement with the EPO and is referred to as an extension state. Four more countries in Europe and in Africa have signed validation agreements with the EPO and are referred to as validation states.

This means that single granted patent application within the EPO can result in the issuance of patents in as many as 44 countries. The process of obtaining patents within these states is referred to as validation. However, each of those patents, for the most part, can only be enforced within the country in which it was validated.

Starting in June 2023, it may be possible to obtain a single patent in as many as 25 European states through the EPO. This new type of patent is referred to as a Unitary Patent. The patent will be available in certain countries that are members of the European Union. As noted above, the European Union has 27 members, so the Unitary Patent will not be available in at least two countries ... for now.  

The Unitary Patent will be enforced within a single European court system, which will be known as the Unified Patent Court. A potential applicant who is considering patent protection in Europe or a current European patent applicant should consider the implications of the new Unitary Patent and the Unified Patent Court.

Additionally, certain existing European patents may be converted into Unitary Patents, so owners of such patents should be aware of those implications. Even if a potential applicant, an applicant or a patent owner does not want to take advantage of this new type of patent or this new court, they should consult with competent European patent counsel to make sure that take any steps that are necessary to opt out of these new systems.