The existing EP system

The existing patent system in Europe

How the European Patent Office issues a "bundle" of national patents

The European Patent Convention (EPC) provides a legal framework for the centralised grant and opposition of European patents by and before the European Patent Office (EPO) for 38 Contracting States (the 27 Member States of the European Union (EU), plus 11 non-EU states including the UK). On grant, the European patent (EP) splits into a bundle of national patents. The national patents are individually validated (typically with translations required) and individual renewal fees are payable.

The national patents that make up the granted EP are individually enforceable, or subject to revocation in each jurisdiction. Thus, if a patentee wants to bring infringement proceedings in multiple jurisdictions, it is required to litigate multiple national patents. Each national patent that makes up the EP is a separate piece of property that is governed by the national law, so any assignment must be completed separately in each state.

This fragmented EP system will still be available if the Unitary Patent (UP) and Unified Patent Court (UPC) come into effect (possibly in 2021). EPs will be used in addition to UPs, in particular to get protection in states that are not joining the UP system (e.g. Spain, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey and the UK).   In addition, applicants may opt to use the existing EP system instead of the UP system, e.g. because it provides the option to opt-out of the jurisdiction of the UPC.