European Union (EU) member states have agreed to the creation of a new Unified Patent Court, whose judgments will apply to all signatory countries, not just individual nations.

Twenty-four of the EU’s 27 member states signed on to the agreement on Feb. 19 in Brussels—with Poland, Bulgaria and Spain as the only holdouts.

The new system aims to cut litigation costs and increase consistency across the European Union, according to a paper by Latham & Watkins partner Laurence Cohen and associate Donald McCombie.

“The current system leads to duplication in litigation between European countries, leading to potentially inconsistent results and increased litigation costs,” the paper says. “The new reforms are intended to provide patentees and potential defendants with the ability to take a pan-European approach to patenting and freedom-to-operate strategies.”

Along with its advantages, however, the unified patent court could bring more patent trolls out of the woodwork, since successful plaintiffs will be able to recover damages in nearly all EU countries.

Under the new system, the EU will establish at least one local court in each signatory country, as well as central courts that will have jurisdiction throughout the EU. In an effort to avoid national prejudices, cases will be heard by multinational three-judge panels.

If patent holders are unhappy with the new system, they can opt out during a seven-year transition period, meaning that their patents can only be revoked on the country level.

The procedural rules governing the new courts will likely combine elements of the French, German and British systems, Cohen told Thomson Reuters. The target date for implementing the new system is Jan. 1, 2014.

Late last year, the EU also voted to establish a unitary patent—granted by the European Patent Office—which will be automatically enforceable in 25 member states.

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