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New patent court to be based in London

19 February 2013

At a signing ceremony in Brussels today (February 19) business secretary Vince Cable finalised a deal to establish a new patent court in London.

Vince Cable
Vince Cable

The new court and patent system creates a one-stop-shop for companies wanting to protect their business ideas in Europe. The new court is expected to be up and running from 2015. The single patent package also guarantees a one-stop-shop for companies registering new business ideas in the EU.

At the moment British inventors can protect their invention either through the UK Intellectual Property Office or, if they are looking for wider protection in a number of countries, by applying to the European Patent Office. These patents must then be validated in the respective countries bringing in costs for translation and administration.

Keith Hodkinson, Chairman of patent attorney and IP specialist, Marks & Clerk International, says businesses must now start to plan their patent filing tactics and existing portfolio management decisions with the possibility of using the new court system, and having it used against them, in mind. 

“Whilst the Unified Patents Court will oversee cases involving Unitary Patents, it will also deal with existing and future non-unitary European patents granted in one or more of the participating states," he explains. "However, the transitional provisions, as currently drafted, provide options to evade the system if you do not want central attack and infringement proceedings for tactical reasons for a potentially very long time.

"Parties can still opt out of – and back into – the new court system if they hold a traditional European patent, whilst their opponents may be able to take steps to prevent opting out or in or to commence proceedings to procure a potentially more favourable forum. 

“The procedure for opting out at the outset could become log jammed and we could see a spike of anticipatory or preventative actions being filed. We may see many parties opting out until the operation of the new system becomes clear. Equally some parties such as non-practising entities may find the possibility of a virtually pan-EU attack very attractive as an efficient means of seeking to implement their monetisation programmes.

“Many large corporates may still simply conclude that the certainty of using national filings in the key EU markets outweighs the uncertainty of the transitional regime. Until the renewal and prosecutions costs are clearly shown to be significantly lower than now, national filings may even increase, particularly given the delays with applications and the procedural problems applicants are facing in the EPO [European Patent Office].

"Many SMEs may reach the same conclusion if they want patents granted more quickly: until you have a patent you cannot sue anyone. Furthermore, having a patent in two or three key countries, such as the UK, France and Germany is often just as effective as having a European patent in terms of a commercial barrier to entry for your competitors. 

“Really, the UPC is not going to solve the major problem of the current European patent system, which is the cost and delay of prosecution before the EPO itself.”

Graham Burnett-Hall, Patent litigation lawyer and Partner at Marks & Clerk Solicitors, adds: “Having one court system for patents across much of Europe will in the long term make enforcement of intellectual property rights much simpler for all businesses, large and small.

"It means that a British organisation whose patents are being infringed by a party in, for example, Slovakia, no longer has to go through the national Slovakian court system to enforce its patents. Instead it will go to the relevant division of the Unified Patent Court, which will apply the same law and procedure in every country taking part. Equally, if infringement is taking place in multiple countries, this can be dealt with through one central court case.

“The complexity of such a huge change in the European patent court system means it will take time to establish how effective it proves to be. In particular, the Court needs to be staffed by judges that are properly equipped to handle the peculiarities and technicalities of patent law. Other details such as the involvement of the Court of Justice of the European Union will also have a huge impact on how the Court runs and how well it works for European business.

“Under the new system we will continue to see English as the dominant language in the patent world. In the central division, cases will predominantly be heard in the language in which the patent is granted. 85% of European patents are granted in English, which is unlikely to change under the new system. In fact, for at least the first six years, all Unitary Patents, if not already in English, will have to be fully translated into English by the time of grant.”

Negotiations on a unified patent court and unitary patent have been ongoing for four decades. The latest proposals were brought forward in 2010. The issue was discussed at the June European Council 2012 where the Prime Minister won important concessions on the location of the court and changes to the design (the removal of articles from the patent regulation).

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