UK Signals Intent To Remain In The New Unified Patent Court System

The United Kingdom's Minister for Intellectual Property, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, has announced that the government is proceeding with preparations to ratify the Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPC Agreement).

Ratification of the UPC Agreement by the UK (and Germany) will bring into effect the establishment of a new court, the Unified Patent Court (UPC), for signatory countries. It will also make available European patents of unitary effect (Unitary Patents or 'UPs') to cover those countries.

What will the Unified Patent Court do?

The new court will have, subject to an 'opt-out' option for patent owners, exclusive jurisdiction regarding the enforcement and validity of all existing European Patents ("EP"s) designated for the signatory countries. Additionally, it will have exclusive jurisdiction in respect of Unitary Patents. A first instance branch of the court will be established in London, and also a section specialising in life sciences.

As the Minister has said, this adds a new approach to patent protection, which has the potential to make European patents more useful to a wider range of businesses. How efficient the court will be remains to be seen, but the intention is that it will be quicker and cheaper than conducting multiple parallel court cases, as is currently necessary to enforce a European patent in each of the jurisdictions for which it has been granted. UK lawyers, businesses and judges have all been closely involved in the development of the UPC.

A Unified Patent Court, or something like it, has been an objective ever since the European Patent Convention (the "EPC") was completed in 1973 introducing the current system for granting European Patents. The EPC is an international treaty which now has 38 signatory countries.

The UPC Agreement is also an international treaty, but governs the enforcement of European patents and it involves interplay with EU law and some oversight by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). It is currently limited to member states of the European Union. The Unitary Patent aspect of the package is given effect by EU Regulation.

How quickly could the UPC and UP system be up and running?

Preparations for the new system were well advanced before the Brexit referendum, the outcome of which created uncertainty as to whether the UK would continue to participate. A small part of the necessary legislation remains to be passed by Parliament.

Parliamentary approval will entail the concession of...

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