Currently, the European Patent System permits applicants to file a single patent application to cover all of Europe. However, when the patent issues the applicant must validate the patent and pay annuities in each individual country.
That’s about to change. On December 11, 2012, the European Union Parliament voted to created a Unified Patent and a Unitary Patent Court. The Unified Patent will be valid in 25 EU states so long as at least England, France, Germany and 10 others ratify the EU’s action. (The 25 states do not include Spain and Italy, which are not participating in the new system.) The Unified Patent will be available starting on January 1, 2014 or (if later) the date of ratification.
The new system could make European patent coverage much less expensive. However, it could also open Europe to the large-scale patent litigation that is common in the United States, since a single action would be able to cover all 25 countries.