During the application and examination of the patent there will be no difference in cost between a unitary patent and a classical European patent. The difference will occur after the grant stage, partly due to the different translation requirement, but primarily due to differences in the annual renewal fees (fees required to maintain the patent in force).
Under the current system most patentees do not maintain European patents in all of the member countries of the European Union. Rather, they select a few states in order to save on renewal fees, with some countries being more popular than others.
Unitary patent renewal fees were set at a level designed to be highly competitive with the European patent maintained in just a few selected states: it was agreed in July 2015 that the renewal fee for a unitary patent would be pegged at a level slightly less than the sum total of the fees currently paid for a European patent covering 4 countries.
So, for the same price as a European patent renewal in four countries under the current system, the owner of a unitary patent will be able to maintain its patent in an area covering all participating EU states (ie 28 countries if all EU countries eventually ratify).
Furthermore, the cumulative saving increases over time: if a unitary patent is maintained as long as fifteen years the EPO estimates that the cumulative saving (over a classical European patent validated in four states) would be over €3000. A patentee who normally validates its European patents in more than four countries would obtain even greater savings.
It is expected that by adopting a “low” renewal fee, unitary patents will be more attractive to users and uptake of unitary patents will be increased.
In addition to the level of renewal and translation fees, organisations with large patent portfolios should also consider the benefits offered by a unitary patent in respect of reduced administrative costs associated with a single annual renewal fee handled by a single patent attorney or renewal agency. Under the current system maintaining European patents in several countries requires several patent attorneys or agents to handle the payment of renewal fees to each national patent office, ie involving duplication of costs.