Yes, that’s right: the UK IPO makes more money
from renewing EP(UK) patents than from all its other activities
put together. According to the
Office’s three-year plan, published this
month, EP (UK) renewals are expected to bring in just over
£42 million ($70 million) – that is 52% of total
income – in 2014-15.
This will not be news to patent owners, particularly those
who have to pay the extensive renewal fees for each member
state in which their European patent is designated.
There’s also no reason to think the UK is
exceptional – I expect most European offices make a
similar proportion of their income from EP renewals, if not
more (though they may not be as transparent about it).
But it is worth thinking about as the 25 EU member states
that have signed up to the Unitary Patent haggle over the fees
to be charged.
Unlike European patents, Unitary Patents will be renewed
centrally at the EPO. You might think therefore that little or
no money will be distributed to national offices. But the EU
Regulation specifically sets out that 50% of fees will be
distributed to national offices based on "fair, equitable and
That was the result of a political compromise. And you can
see why: if applicants switch away from European patents to
Unitary Patents in large numbers, that will leave a big hole in
the income of many national offices.
My understanding is that the UK’s position is
that change is inevitable, and the system should be designed to
offer value to users rather than revenue to national offices,
even if that means a big drop in revenue. The Corporate Plan in
fact notes that the Unitary Patent may have an effect on demand
towards the latter part of the three-year plan.
But that will not be true of other offices in Europe.
And that tension explains why discussions over the renewal
fees are still continuing, and we do not yet have any light on
what they will be. As EPO President Benoit Battistelli told us
last year, keeping fees down while trying to maintain national
office revenues is "like trying to transform a circle into a
But as we have argued before (
Unitary Patent figures don’t add up;
The importance of getting Unitary Patent fees right,
Patent practitioners call for cost clarity), if the price
of a Unitary Patent isn’t right,
there’s no good reason why applicants should use