In a move that has surprised many, the UK government has announced that it is pressing ahead with its preparations to ratify the Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA).

The UPCA is an agreement between most of the European Union member states to establish a single patent right covering those member states (the Unitary Patent, UP), and a new, centralized court (the Unified Patent Court, UPC) ,which will eventually have sole jurisdiction to decide on disputes arising from both Unitary Patents and European patents in those member states. One of the branches of the Central Division of the UPC is to be located in London, handling most cases relating to the validity of patents in the life sciences and chemistry areas.

The UPCA has been in limbo since the result of the UK’s referendum in June, stating that the UK should leave the European Union (“Brexit”). The UPCA requires ratification by at least 13 participating member states (11 have ratified to date), including France (which has already ratified), Germany, and the UK in order to come into force. Many had assumed that in view of the referendum result, the UK government would be unwilling to proceed with ratification of the UPCA.

The new announcement from the UK Minister of State for Intellectual Property, Baroness Neville Rolfe can be found here. It explains that the UK will continue with its preparations to ratify the Agreement over the coming months and will be working with the Preparatory Committee to bring the UPC into operation as soon as possible.

Questions still remain over the UK’s continuing role in the UPC and Unitary Patent systems when the UK leaves the EU. This announcement, however, indicates the UK’s willingness to participate in the system, and if the UK does proceed with ratification as indicated, and Germany also proceeds with ratification, then the UPC and Unitary Patent could come into effect as early as mid-2017.