How did the “traditional” patent system work in Europe (before the start of the UPC)?

Until now, patents in Europe have been and still are available through either national patent offices or the European Patent Office (EPO).

The national patent offices examine applications under rules set out in their national law. If granted, an application results in a national patent.

The EPO examines applications under the rules set out in the European Patent Convention (EPC). There are 39 contracting states to the EPC (including all EU member states, the UK, and others). If granted, the patentee can then decide in which of the 39 contracting states they wish to validate it.

Each patent granted by the EPO, a ‘European patent’, therefore results in a bundle of what are in effect national rights which, like nationally granted patents, must be enforced through the national courts of the countries in which they have been validated.

There is some scope for national courts to grant relief for more than one country but, within the EU, the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union only permits such pan-national relief in very limited situations. Therefore, international patent disputes in Europe are typically litigated in several countries in parallel.