With the cloud of uncertainty around what Brexit will look like, it is worth clarifying the effect, or lack of effect it will have on European patents and the UK.
Full withdrawal from the EU, a so-called hard Brexit, does not result in withdrawal from the European Patent Office (EPO) which is a very different entity.
The EPO is a public international organisation established by the European Patent Convention. It is not a European Union or Council of Europe institution. Thus, the EPO is completely unaffected by Brexit, as are its employees and users. Put simply it is business as usual for patent applicants and users of the EPO, regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations.
It is worth noting at this point that the EPO has historically always included countries which are not in the European Union (EU) such as Turkey, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland. Any qualified European patent attorney can act before the EPO and obtain patents on behalf of their organisation or their clients. Becoming a European patent attorney involves passing tough examinations, and the bulk of qualified attorneys reside in the UK, Germany and France.
The EPO has provided a system which while a little unwieldy and bureaucratic at times (although these issues have been widely addressed now) is generally good for one-stop prosecution of patent applications. Its popularity has in fact led to some problems which were unforeseen by the EPO when it was founded in 1977. It remains the most popular choice for patent protection across its member states including those in the EU and outside the EU.
There will be no change in the existing system used by UK patent attorneys to prosecute, oppose and defend patents at the EPO – they will be in the same position that patent attorneys based in non-EU states, such as Switzerland, have been for many years. Moreover, European patents will continue to protect all the member states of the EPO including the 10 or so countries which are not members of the EU but full members of the EPO. Whether Britain chooses to be in or out of the EU circle makes no difference.
This is good news for all patent applicants whether they are based in Europe, the EU, or elsewhere.
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