Perfect confusion. What “European” means in Intellectual Property.

Perfect confusion. What “European” means in Intellectual Property.

That may sound trivial, but it is not. Being born and raised up in Europe myself, I can tell you that “European” has no fixed meaning at all, and each and every European relates to this term in a different way.

Example Turkey

Let’s look at Turkey as an example. Geologically, Turkey is a part of Europe because it sits on the European tectonic plate. Turkey, or its predecessor the Ottoman Empire, has been deeply involved in Europe for centuries. The Ottoman Empire extended deep into the European peninsula, until 100 years ago, and it shaped European history. It was the enemy of some powers in Europe and an ally of others. Read chapter 14 of Friedman’s book “Flashpoints” if you want to find out more, I have put a review here. And Turkey is a member of the European Council. For me, Turkey is part of Europe, but many Europeans think differently.

Example Tunisia

As a further example, in contrast, Tunisia is not part of Europe, despite being only a stone’s throw away from Europe. Over many centuries, close relations with Europe – in particular with France and with Italy – have been forged through economic cooperation and marriages. Tunisia is not part of Europe because it is on the African continent. I am not aware of anyone who thinks that Tunisia is part of Europe.

European Union

The European Union (EU) does not include all countries of the entire European peninsula, and especially not only not Turkey and not Tunisia, but also not Switzerland, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia, all countries that are located in the heartland of Europe.

The EU has its own court system with the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU, former ECJ) at the top, and with the Unified Patent Court (UPC) which is expected to be soon active in those member states of the EU that participate in the UPC system.

The European Union has its own intellectual property office, the EUIPO (former OHIM), which is responsible for EU trademarks (former Community Trademark/CTM) and EU designs (former Registered Community Design/RCD), but not for patents.

EU patents are European Patents with Unitary Effect (EPUE), more commonly known as Unitary Patents (former Community Patents), and they are expected to be soon registrable only in those member states of the EU that participate in the UPC system.

Unitary Patents are issued by the the European Patent Office (EPO), which is NOT a EU organization.

European Patent Convention

The European Patent Convention (EPC) comprises not only European countries, but also countries that are not European, such as (in the view of some) Turkey. Some but not all member states of the EPC are members of the EU. Tunisia is neither a member of the EU nor of the EPC, but it has signed a validation agreement with the European Patent Office (EPO). Once entered into force, this agreement will allow EP patents to have legal effect in Tunisia.

The EPO issues European Patents (EP) under the legislation of the EPC, which need to be validated in some or all of the EPC member states.

The EPO currently provides the most sophisticated prior art search in the world and the EPO Appeal Chamber is currently the world’s most predictable patent court. This is not important for this article but I wanted to put it in writing somewhere, for a long time already.


If you bookmark this little article, you never again need to confuse the meaning of European acronyms, such as EPO, CJEU/ECJ, EP, EPUE, EPC, EPO, EU, EUIPO, OHIM, CTM, RCD, etc.

You understand for example, why in most cases a European Patent Attorney who is a Turkish national lawyer can prosecute an EP patent before EPO and litigate a Unitary Patent before the UPC, but not before a national court of one of the EU member states.

Although you may already know the aforementioned information, I have never seen it written in a few paragraphs only. We are now all on the same page and I can continue with explaining the new Unified Patent Court system and the Unitary Patent system.

As you may have anticipated already, you will see here that the new Unified Patent Court system and the Unitary Patent system is not less complicated than what I have described above.

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