Williams Powell

British and European Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys

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When the EU parliament approved the Unitary Patent legislation in December 2012, some (including ourselves) optimistically said we may see Unitary Patents granted as early as the middle of 2014.  While implementation still appears to be well on track, we are still some way off - because of politics.

For the Unitary Patent system to come into force, the legislation must be ratified by thirteen member states (which must include UK, France and Germany).  As at February 2015, France, Austria, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden have ratified the legislation.  It is highly unlikely that the UK will ratify the legislation in 2015 as it is to hold a general election in May. 

More formal issues also still remain undecided - how much will the renewal fees be?  The aim for the Unitary Patent is for a single annual renewal to be payable covering all states.  In order to be attractive to SME's, the EU want the single renewal fee to be relatively low.  However, this will likely reduce the income of many member states and has therefore been a point of much debate. We understand discussions on this point continue between the European Patent Office, EPO, and member state governments.

We will keep you appraised of developments as they occur and would be happy to answer any questions.  Ultimately, when the Unitary Patent system finally comes into force any pending European patent application should be able to be converted into a Unitary Patent at grant so there is no reason or benefit in delaying filing. For pending European patent applications that are approaching grant, filing a divisional application would keep them pending and therefore leave open the opportunity of conversion to a Unitary Patent when the option finally becomes available.

 

On 16 Apr 2013, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) rejected challenges by Spain and Italy to the legislative process used to establish the unitary patent framework. 

Spain and Italy had attempted to block the creating of the unitary patent agreement, both by non-participation and legal challenge to the process used (typically EU law requires all member states to agree to legislation).  The argued among other things that the unitary patent agreement would undermine the internal market and that it would create a barrier to trade and distort competition to the detriment of businesses in their countries. 

Rejecting their challenges, the CJEU said that it cannot validly be maintained that the unitary patent agreement would damage the internal market or the economic, social and territorial cohesion of the Union. 

While there is significant political pressure to conclude the unitary patent agreement and the EU is unlikely to allow the process to be blocked, this is not the end of the line for the challenges. Two further actions for annulment have been lodged by Spain before the CJEU.

By a large majority, the EU Parliament today (11 December 2012) voted to approve legislation that enables implementation of the Unitary Patent and the Unified Patent Court.

Only in the EU could the legislation that finally brought to a conclusion some 40 years of debate, negotiation and compromise on the Unitary Patent be immediately followed in the same document by the “Implementation of the bilateral safeguard clause and the stabilisation mechanism for bananas of the EU-Central America association agreement”.

While not an absolute certainty (the legal challenges by Spain and Italy are still be to decided and additionally member states must ratify the legislation), EU politicians have now had their say and have cast their final votes.  In all likelihood we will be seeing Unitary Patents relatively soon.

Many have commented that the legislation has been rushed and is flawed.  There are certainly many areas that will require clarification in years to come.  The provisions on jurisdiction clearly open up a new era on forum shopping and could result in validity being heard in a court in a different country to that of infringement.  However, there are many positives, particularly to the SME and its budget:

  • Translations will (eventually) be no-more
  • Annual maintenance fees will be less than those that would currently be paid if all EP member states were validated
  • Infringement decisions will be enforceable in all member states without further activity
  • SMEs to benefit from reduced annual maintenance fees

The Unitary Patent System will be administered by the European Patent Office.  Examination will be subject to the same EPC provisions as currently apply.  However, at grant a European Patent can be registered as a “Patent with Unitary Effect” instead of being validated in national member states (the legislation explicitly state that a Unitary and a national patent should not be allowed).  It appears that existing European Patent applications that grant after the implementation date of the Unitary Patent may be registered on grant as Patents with Unitary effect. Therefore we could be seeing Patents with Unitary Effect being granted (and therefore available for use in commencing an infringement action) as soon as early 2014.

There are of course many questions:

  • Will Spain and Italy give up their objections and challenges and join the Unitary Patent System now the Advocate General has issued his opinion suggesting their legal challenges be rejected (and the likelihood of the Court of Justice of the EU agreeing))
  • Will the UKIPO and UK courts finally have to shift towards EPO practice on matters such as patentability of software related inventions?
  • Will the UK courts have to abandon their system of following precedent decisions or will the codified legal systems of France and Germany have to be compromised?
  • Will the EPO now have to take notice of decisions from a body (the Unified Patent Court) outside of the EPO (something it has traditionally been reluctant to do)?

As infringement actions must be brought before local courts or courts in the country in which the patentee has its place of business, will business in countries with lesser developed local court systems be disadvantaged?

One politician commented that the time has come for the politicians to hand over to those responsible for implementing the new systems.  More details will follow here as the implementation detail is released and flaws and issues become clear.

The EU's Advocate General Bot proposes today (11 December 2012) that the Court should dismiss actions brought by Spain and Italy against the Council’s decision authorising enhanced cooperation in the area of the unitary patent

In 2011, agreement could not be reached over the languages to be used for the unitary patent (also known as the community patent).  Spain and Italy were unable to reach a compromise with other states (who had agreed on English, French or German). The Council authorised enhanced cooperation between 25 of the 27 EU Member States – Spain and Italy having refused to participate – with a view to creating unitary patent protection. The aim of that cooperation is to set up centralised EU-wide authorisation, coordination and supervision arrangements.

Spain and Italy have asked the Court of Justice to annul the Council’s decision, maintaining that it is invalid for a number of reasons.

In his Opinion delivered today, Advocate General Bot replies to the arguments put forward by Spain and Italy, suggesting to the Court that they reject the requests on all points.

The Courts decision is not expected until 2013.  The Advocate General's opinion will give some comfort to the European Parliament who are today voting on the text to implement the Unified Patent Court which would decide on validity and infringement issues on unified patents.

The press release and the Advocate General's opinion can be found at Press release and Opinion

Tagged in: community patent EU

A compromise agreement means that the court hearing cases concerning the EU will be split between Paris, Munich and London.  

What has been referred to as the final issue blocking implementation of the EU patent has now been resolved.  

After what appears to have been significant negotiation, agreement over the location of the EU patent court (called the Unified Patent Court) has been reached.  The court will be shared between Paris, London and Munich. The court's central division will be in the French capital, Munich will deal with applications relating to mechanical engineeering, and the UK end of the operation will be responsible for patents concerned with pharmaceuticals and chemistry.

Changes to the regulation meant that the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) will not have final jurisdiction in the unified patent regime.

The European Parliament must now approve the agreements on the court and the EU patent system before implementation can take place, although there is reported to be concern in the parliament over removal of the CJEU's jurisdiction.

Tagged in: community patent EU

The EU committee on Legal Affairs optimistically delclares "Done Deal on the EU Patent!".  We're not there yet but we do appear to be moving forward after more than 30 years negotiation.

In a press release issued 2 December 2012, the EU Parliament's rapporteurs declared that a political agreement had been reached on the proposals for an EU unitary patent and language regime.  A proposal for a unified patent court is still the subject of discussion with two (yet to be named) states disagreeing about where the court should be situated (it is believed that it is between London and Germany).

The agreements have a long way to go before coming into effect - they will have to be confirmed by both the EU Parliament and the Council and at least some aspects at national level. The press release stated that a regulation should enter into force in 2014, although we think this is likely to slip.

The proposed regime for translating EU patents would make them available in English, German and French, although applications could be submitted in any EU language. The press release said that translation costs from a language other than the three official ones would be compensated.

Details on the full agreement are not yet public.