Recently, the UK Minister of State for Intellectual Property, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, announced that the UK will implement the Unitary Patent (UP) and Unified Patent Court (UPC). In the announcement, Neville-Rolfe both praised the UP/UPC system as “provid[ing] an option for businesses that need to protect their inventions across Europe” and cautioned that the UK’s decision to implement the UP/UPC system “should not be seen as preempting the UK’s objectives or position in the forthcoming negotiations with the EU.”
As previously discussed, this announcement answers – for now at least – certain questions regarding the future of the UP and UPC that were raised by the Brexit vote which took place on June 23, 2016. However, in light of Neville-Rolfe’s comments the ultimate fate of the UP/UPC in the UK remains to be seen. The UK’s future within the EU also remains uncertain. From December 5 to December 8, 2016, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom heard argument in the case of Secretary of State v. Miller. The issue before the Court is whether the British Prime Minister has the constitutional authority to exercise the UK’s right to exit the EU without a parliamentary vote. A decision is expected in January.
The purpose of the UP/UPC system is to simplify the existing patent system in Europe and to provide a cost effective route to both patent protection and dispute resolution. It is open to all members of the EU. Twenty-five EU states have signed on to participate – notably, Croatia and Spain have not.
The UPC Preparatory Committee has stated that the UK’s announcement will allow the committee to increase its pace in completing all of the necessary preparations for the UPC to become fully operational. London is to serve as the location for the Central Division Courts for life sciences, chemistry, and metallurgy. Central Division Courts for mechanical engineering and electronics are to be in Munich and Paris respectively.
As a potentially far more attractive system for patent enforcement, the emergence of the UP/UPC may significantly shift patent prosecution and litigation strategy for many multinational companies. Gibbons will continue to follow this story and report on updates and practice tips.