Baroness Neville-Rolfe has stated at a meeting of the EU Competitive Council today that the UK will ratify the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court (UPC). This ends months of speculation, following the decision of the UK to leave the EU on 23 June. It improves the prospects of the UPC and the Unitary Patent coming into force as early as 2017.
The decision by Neville-Rolfe, who is the Minister of State for Energy and Intellectual Property, still leaves questions unanswered. This is because the UPC and Unitary Patent system has been thought to require participants to be EU Member States (although the UPC would not itself be an EU body). Upon exit from the EU, and without guarantees of long-term participation, the UK therefore faces the risk of being forced to leave the UPC and Unitary Patent; a considerable disruption for businesses using the system. Analysis of this issue has differed, however, with some opinion suggesting that post-Brexit participation of the UK will be relatively straightforward. The decision to ratify means that this issue will have to be resolved upon Brexit.
The date of the UK ratification is as yet unknown and the ratification of the UPC and Unitary Patent by Germany is still required. However, assuming both of these follow soon, the court may be opened much sooner than was initially feared after the Brexit decision, possibly towards the end of 2017, or the beginning of 2018.