Most people know that patents and patent applications are territorial i.e. if you want patent protection in a particular country, then you need a patent application that covers that country. For many countries you have to file a national patent application with the respective national patent office. For some countries, it’s possible to file a regional patent application that covers lots of countries. For example, if you want patent protection in the UK, you can file a UK patent application at the UK Intellectual Property Office or you can file a European patent application that covers the UK and 40 or so more countries.
In this connection, there has long been a perception that if you want patent protection in a few European countries, it’s cheaper, better and simpler to file a European patent application, rather than to file individual patent applications at the local patent offices of each individual desired country. This is not always the case and, as ever, the Devil is in the detail when it comes to deciding which route is better.
A European patent application is nothing to do with the European Union, but is a patent application that covers more than 40 European countries. The European patent application is examined by the European Patent Office to see if a patent should be granted and, if so, a European patent is granted that potentially covers all 40+ countries. However, in order to put the patent into effect in a particular country certain steps have to be undertaken in that country (a process known as “validation”). The requirements differ from country to country but may, for example, include filing a translation of the patent into a local language.
The alternative to filing a European patent application is to file patent applications in each country of interest and to try to persuade each national patent office that you should get a patent. While on the face of it this approach sounds nonsensical, there may be good reasons for not filing a European patent application, and for pursuing applications in each country, as is now explained.
European Patent Application – benefits
Sometimes it is not possible to file patent applications at national patent offices and the filing of a European patent application is the only way of obtaining protection. For example, if you have an International patent application that you want to convert into patent applications in different countries, and want to obtain patent protection in Ireland, then you cannot file an Irish patent application at the Irish Patent Office. You would have to file a European patent application which covers Ireland.
European Patent Application – possible downsides
For really important inventions you may wish to try to get protection via a European patent application and a national patent application. This gives you two chances of obtaining protection. In some countries you may subsequently have to drop the national patent or the designation of that country from the European patent in order to avoid double patenting.
While it will often be more sensible to file a European patent application this will not always be the case. The key thing, as usual, is to involve your patent attorney in the decision making process at an early stage. Let them know of the target countries so that they can provide you with a sensible patenting strategy.