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What the unitary patent means for patent attorneys

The unitary patent is just the latest in a long line of steps towards harmonised patent filing in Europe. Adam Majeed examines how prosecution firms are adapting their business models

First, in 1996, there was the Community trade mark (CTM). Then, in 2003 the registered Community design (RCD). Now, after decades of discussion, it looks like the pan-EU patent will be born in 2014. It's not quite the long-promised Community patent – Spain and Italy are for the time being outside the system – but the so-called unitary patent will nevertheless enable applicants for the first time to have a single patent right covering most of the European Union. If the system works as intended, patent owners will save money on application and renewal fees, while portfolio management and enforcement will become much simpler.

For patent attorneys, though, the introduction of unitary patents threatens to overturn many of their established business practices. Some fear a drop in referral work, as well as less demand for the lucrative so-called validation and translation of European patents, which has been the backbone of work for...

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