I was born in the UK, but currently work as a trainee patent attorney in Melbourne, having emigrated to Australia six years ago. All of my family remain in the UK, as do a large number of my friends, so I always keep a close eye on how things are going back home.
Friday 24 June 2016 started like any other day, but would go on to become a very eventful one. Britain’s votes in the referendum to remain or leave the EU were being counted and I, like most other people, expected the remain side to win. Remaining in the EU was by far the ‘safer’ option, with predictions that a vote to leave could cripple the UKs economy, at least for the next couple of years. The long term effects of a vote to leave were largely unknown, whereas remaining would have at least provided the stability that everything would remain in its present state.
So, when I checked the standings of the votes being counted at midday and saw that leave was in the lead, I was surprised. As the afternoon passed, the remain vote retaking the lead as I had expected did not happen and eventually leave won by over a million votes. It was a strange feeling to know that the unthinkable had happened and that the UK would now face a number of uncertainties in its future.
I am unsure why such an important issue was put to a public referendum where only one vote over 50% would be enough to decide such a massive issue as the membership of the EU. I also have a feeling that holding the vote during the European Football Championships, when national patriotism would be at a high, may have had an effect on the outcome. However, the vote has been and gone and the result is now known, and all we can do now is wait to see what impact it will have on the country.
For a start, UK Prime Minister David Cameron resigned following the result. This means that the country will have to navigate through its negotiations to leave the EU with a new leader.
As had been forecast, the Pound Sterling tumbled after the result of the vote to leave was certain. Against the Australian Dollar the Pound lost almost 10% and against the US Dollar the Pound slumped to its lowest level since 1985. The Euro fell against some overseas currencies such as the US dollar and the Australian Dollar also lost some ground against the US dollar.
Similarly, the share markets lost large amounts of money in the wake of the Brexit vote, particularly the UK and European markets. Many other global markets felt the effects, although these now appear to have normalised.
If the result of the vote was unexpected, the public reaction to it was even more so. Almost instantly, social media went into overdrive with a huge outpouring of emotion over the result. The main emotions being vented were shock, fear and anger. You might have thought that there would have been at least as much joy from those who voted to leave, but I did not see any of this, instead it was a landslide of pain and hurt.
Immediately following the result, I noticed panic amongst many who were looking for a way to reverse the decision. Many links to UK government petition websites were being shared and there were a lot of people asking questions about whether there was any way the result would be considered void and that the UK would remain in the EU.
I hope in the week since the result that people have realised that a majority of the UK voted for the decision and that the country must as a whole, stand by that decision and that it won’t be the ‘end of the world’ that many first thought.
One unexpected result of the EU referendum is that it has inadvertently reawakened the discussion about Scotland leaving the UK. Scotland resoundingly voted for the UK to remain in the EU, with the remain camp taking around 62% of Scottish votes. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said in the wake of the result that a second Scottish independence vote was ‘highly likely’. It would certainly add to the potential turmoil of the result if this were to happen. Any such second Scottish Independence vote however would probably not happen until the effects of Brexit are fully known.
In the short term there will be no effect on the application process, enforcement and maintenance of IP rights in the UK or Europe, at least until the UK has formalised its exit from the EU.
The present European Patent system will be unaffected because the UKs membership of the European Patent Convention (EPC) is independent of its membership of the EU. So, EP patents will continue to be enforceable in the UK and there will also be no effect on GB patents.
The biggest effect on patents will on be the Unitary patent which was awaiting ratification by the UK before it was expected to come into effect in 2017. The exit from the EU means that the UK will not form part of the Unitary patent. This means there will be a delay, potentially of a few years, before the Unitary patent officially comes into existence. The UKs exit will also have an effect on how the Unitary patent is protected and enforced as London was due to house one division of the Unitary Patent Court.
Trade marks and Designs are likely to be effected by the British exit. Community Design Registrations will not apply in the UK once the EU exit is official and it is likely that there will be conversion procedures to convert these into UK designs to ensure that no rights are lost. Similarly, EU Trade marks are not going to be valid in the UK once the EU exit is official. A similar conversion program is also likely for these trade marks.
Potential Long Term Effects
It appears that there could be a couple of difficult years ahead for the UK, which has potentially, lost the support of Europe. Similarly, there will also be a difficult time ahead for Europe, which has lost one of its biggest economies that has helped to steady the ship during difficult times.
My prediction is that both the UK and Europe will realise how much they rely on the other and that even after the exit, special deals will be put in place to ensure that trade between the UK and Europe remains as strong. I also think that once the waves of reaction to the Brexit have died out, the UK and Europe will recover and be as strong as before. Some predictions say that growth will be slower for Britain outside the EU, however I can see this potentially being offset with increased investment in the UK from overseas investors who see value in the decrease in the Pound Sterling.
There are certainly interesting times ahead for both the UK and Europe.