This is a new “invention” of the European Patent Office (EPO). The EPO is moving forward in creating a unified patent system for participating countries. Details of this system will become clearer with time. Therefore, it is too early to talk about things like examination time and fees. For now, the participating members have agreed to pursue the project and to establish a common court with jurisdiction over unitary patents.
The unitary patent system would represent an improvement over the current structure because the resulting patent would be automatically enforceable in all contracting states (presently 25 of 38 EPO states), without requiring examination by each desired country. The present EPO patent system requires that the applicant request a separate review by each desired contracting state.
The unitary patent system was designed to help inventors in Europe gain greater geographic coverage for their patents with a single filing. It is also most likely positioned to compete with the USPTO. However, applicants wishing a broader world coverage, and those initially filing in the US, or other non-contracting states will still have to file a Paris Convention application (PCT).