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Institute of Professional Representatives before the European Patent Office

European Patents

What is a patent / what is a European patent?

Patents systems were devised to encourage innovation. While each country has its own patent laws, the same basic principles are applied throughout the world. A patent is a legal title granting the patent proprietor the exclusive right to prevent others from manufacturing, selling, using or importing the patented invention in a specified country or group of countries.

The European patent is an essential step towards establishment of the unified patent system in the Member States of the EPC. With one unique European patent application, drafted in only one official language (English, French or German) and filed in one filing office, the steps of the grant procedure (publication and examination of the application) can be unified. Once granted by the European Patent Office, the European patent becomes a bundle of national patents in accordance with designations chosen by the Applicant when the application was filed. It is to be emphasised that at the present time, all granted patents are limited in extent to the territory of a national designation, eg Germany or the UK. There is as yet no single patent for the EU, nor indeed a single 'world' patent.

Protection of an invention involves several steps:

  1. A first filing at one particular patent office, generally a national patent office, for securing a priority date. Thus, filing effectively "freezes" the state of the art, that is to say any publication and disclosure which is published after the priority date cannot be used to challenge your right to a patent.
  2. Foreign filings in different states, within a year of the priority date, to extended protection in different territories.
    The European patent route, may cover most European countries.
  3. Prosecution of all the applications up to the grant of the first and foreign filings. This generally involves dialogue between the patent attorney and the patent office regarding the patentability of the invention.
  4. If the relevant patent office accepts that the invention is patentable,it grants a patent. This patent is a legal right enforceable against third party infringers who make, use, sell or import the patented invention into the territory covered by the patent without a license from the owner of the patent (the patentee). Infringement actions are generally legal procedures brought in a national Court, in some of which, the UK for example, patent attorneys can have right of audience.