24 EU Member States Sign Unified Patent Court Agreement

On 19 February 2013, Ministers from 24 Member States signed the international agreement setting up the Unified Patent Court (“UPC”) during the EU Competitiveness Council in Brussels. The UPC is designed to ensure the uniform application of patent law throughout the territories of the signatory countries.

Ireland’s Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, welcomed the signature of the agreement, describing it as a truly historic moment which will give businesses greater access to patent protection at European level and make enforcement of patents affordable.

The UPC represents the final component of the EU’s patent legislative package, which also includes two Regulations on establishing the EU patent and on translation arrangements (See, VBB on Belgian Business Law, Volume 2012, Nos. 11 and 12, available at www.vbb.com). This is expected to reduce litigation costs and legal uncertainty by doing away with the need to defend patents in multiple Member State courts and the related risk of different outcomes in different jurisdictions across Europe.

All EU Member States, apart from Bulgaria, Poland and Spain, have signed the agreement. Bulgaria did not sign due to internal administrative matters which should be resolved in due course, while Poland is withholding its signature for now due to possible negative effects on its economy. Poland remains open to joining the system eventually. Quite notably, Italy - which has so far refused to sign up to the enhanced cooperation establishing the EU-wide patent - has nonetheless agreed to sign the UPC agreement, possibly signalling that its position may be shifting in favour of joining the new EU-wide patent system too.

In terms of structure, the UPC will consist of central and local/regional divisions. The central division will be headquartered in Paris, with specialised chambers for pharmaceuticals and life sciences in London, and other specialised chambers for mechanical engineering in Munich.

Necessary decisions with regard to the putting into place and operations of the UPC (i.e., designation of committees, budget, appointment of judges and president, recruitment of staff and facilities etc.) should now be adopted rapidly in order to enable the first registration of EU-wide patents for Spring 2014. To enter into force, the agreement must first be ratified by at least 13 Member States which may occur as early as 1 January 2014.