London has been named as one of the locations for the new Unified Patent Court.
For many years, an ongoing EU initiative has been to create an EU Unified Patent; that is, a single patent valid across all EU Member States and enforceable through a specialised court system with power to issue Europe-wide decisions (a right similar to a Community Trade Mark). Only one central application would be needed. Currently, anyone seeking patent protection across Europe can file an application for a “European Patent” but this is, in effect, simply a bundle of national patents rather than a right with EU-wide effect. Patent owners are required to litigate in each Member State where infringement is occurring and the decision will generally have effect in that Member State only. This can result in significant costs (including the costs of translation) and inconvenience.
Agreement on the Court
Although most Member States have been in agreement for some time on the economic value of a Unified Patent, the initiative has stalled because of a failure to agree on where the new Unified Patent Court should be located. Within the last couple of days, there has been a breakthrough on this issue. Member States have agreed that the new court should be located in three jurisdictions. Paris will host the Central Division of the EU Unified Patent Court. London and Munich will host sections of the Central Division each dealing with cases involving specific subject matters. London will handle cases involving medical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, chemical and metallurgical patents and Munich will deal with mechanical engineering, lighting and heating patents. Appeals from the decisions of any of the three courts will be heard by the Court of Justice of the European Union, located in Luxembourg. There are also plans to create “Local Divisions” of the courts in some or all EU Member States which would allow parties to litigate more conveniently in their home courts, but the exact plans for these are currently sketchy.
The Future of the Unitary Patent Itself
Although a decision on the location of the court has been reached, the details of the new Unified Patent itself have yet to be finalised. This is likely to happen in the next few months, with the new patent system being launched shortly afterwards. If all goes to plan, the European Council predict that the first Unified Patent could be granted in 2014.
The consensus is that the introduction of a Unified Patent will boost innovation as businesses are more likely to invest in research and development, encouraged by the greater ease with which they will be able to protect and enforce their rights across Europe.
More generally, the decision to locate one of the specialised courts in London confirms the city’s established position at the centre of European patent matters. It is expected to lead to a significant increase in patent litigation across the UK with London, as both a Central and Local Division, at the hub.
This is exciting news for all current or would-be patent owners, particularly those in the medical, pharmaceutical, biotechnology and chemical industries.