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A patent confers upon its holder, for a limited period, the right to exclude others from exploiting (making, using, selling, importing) the patented invention, except with the consent of the owner of the patent. A patent is a form of “industrial property”, which can be assigned, transferred, licensed or used by the owner.

Patents are territorial in effect e.g. patents granted by the Irish Patents office are valid only in Ireland. The Irish Patents system provides for two patent types, namely, full-term patents and short-term patents. To maintain an Irish patent in force, annual renewal fees must be paid each year.

Irish Full-term Patents

In order to be patentable an invention must be novel, involve an inventive step and be susceptible of industrial application. Full-term patents provide protection to the patent holder for up to 20 years upon payment of annual renewal fees. The applicant must provide evidence of the invention’s novelty and can do so in one of three ways: (i) by submitting a report and written opinion as to patentability that has been carried out on the same application in another jurisdiction (UK, Germany, EPO, WIPO), (ii) by submitting a patent granted by another recognised Intellectual Property office for the same claims of invention (i.e. UK, Germany, EPO) or, (iii) by requesting the Irish office to have a report and written opinion as to patentability prepared on the applicant’s behalf. 

Irish Short-term Patents

Short-term Patents are designed to accommodate lower level inventions. Internationally they are akin to a branch of IP referred to as utility models. The requirement for a short term patent is that it is new, susceptible of industrial application and is not clearly lacking an inventive step. The applicant does not have to provide evidence of the invention’s novelty. Short-term patents last for a maximum of 10 years. 

The European Patent Office (EPO) grants European patents in respect of the contracting states to the European Patent Convention which was adopted in 1973.  The EPO provides a single patent grant procedure in up to 39 European countries. Following grant, the patents granted by the EPO result in a bundle of national patents in respect of the countries selected by the applicant in which protection is claimed.

The Irish Patents Office acts also as a receiving office for patent applications under the Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT). The Patent Cooperation Treaty is administered by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) based in Geneva and assists applicants in seeking patent protection internationally for their inventions. By filing an international patent application under the PCT, applicants can simultaneously seek protection in up to 148 countries that are party to this system globally.

European Union patents

Although no EU system of patent protection currently exists, plans are at an advanced stage for the introduction of a Unitary European Union system of patent protection and for an international Court in which patent litigation will be heard. The system commonly referred to as “The Patents Package”.

The patents package consists of three elements:

  • An EU Regulation creating a European patent with unitary effect (unitary patent);
  • An EU Regulation establishing a translation regime for the unitary patent;
  • An international agreement among 25 EU Member States setting up a single specialised patent jurisdiction - the Unified Patent Court.

The two EU Regulations on the unitary patent were agreed in December 2012, while the international Agreement on a Unified Patent Court (UPCA) was signed in February 2013. Both the unitary patent and the Court will come into force at the same time once all the preparatory work is complete and the required number of ratifications of the UPCA by Member States is completed.

The patents package will provide a simpler, less expensive process for registering and protecting patents. This package will give inventors the opportunity to protect their inventions in up to 26 EU Member States by filing a single patent application with the European Patent Office without the need for validation in each individual country.

European patent with unitary effect

The Unitary Patent will be a single patent valid throughout all of the EU Member States that are implementing the EU system (currently all EU Member States except Spain and Croatia) and those States that have ratified the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court.

The International Agreement on a Unified Patent Court

The Unified Patent Court will be a centralised patent court where inventors can enforce their patent rights in 25 Member States through instigating one legal case. The Unified Patent Court will have jurisdiction over EU Unitary Patents and, after a transitional period of 7 years, over European Patents granted by the EPO.

Related websites 

Patents Office > Patents 

European Patent Office

World Intellectual Property Office

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