In December 2012, the European Parliament supported the creation of a European patent with unitary effect. For the next year at least, the international patent community will be on the edge of its proverbial seat, waiting to see whether the proposal becomes a reality. If it does, it will be a significant event in both the long and rich history of patent law, and in the equally rich and understudied history of attempts to create a European patent system. In this article I consider the three post-war European patent initiatives of the most direct and enduring relevance in that regard with a view to answering the following questions. First, what drove them? Second, what issues confronted them? And third, how were those issues resolved and with what ultimate effect? In the concluding section I relate the discussion back to the present by offering some remarks on the current European patent proposal in light of the same.