Austria first country to ratify unified patent court agreement

Out-Law News | 26 Aug 2013 | 2:18 pm | 2 min. read

Austria has become the first EU country to ratify an agreement which will see a new court system introduced for ruling on disputes about new unitary patents.

Ministers from 24 EU countries in February this year signed an agreement paving the way for a new unified patent court framework to be created. The unified patent court system would be used for resolving disputes relating to the validity and infringement of new unitary patents. The agreement must be ratified by at least 13 national parliaments which must include the UK, France and Germany,

Unitary patents would, if a wider legislative package of reforms is introduced, enable businesses to protect their monopoly over their inventions across multiple EU member states by making a single application filing for a unitary patent at the European Patent Office (EPO).

Part of the reforms include a framework for establishing a legal framework under which a new unified patent court system would operate. The system would involve local, regional and central divisional courts hearing disputes.

Under the terms of the February agreement, London would be the base for a new central division of the unified patent court and would be responsible for handling disputes relating to pharmaceutical patents. The other central divisional courts will be based in Paris and Munich.

Austria's Foreign Ministry has announced that it is the first EU member country to ratify the February agreement enabling a unified patent court framework to be established.

"Until now, seeking approval for an EU-wide patent was a costly, laborious process that deterred many," Austrian Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said in a statement. "However, thanks to the agreement reached on the patent package for unified patent protection, things are set to change. Against this background, I am proud of the fact that Austria has assumed a pioneering role with regard to the new EU patent. As the first member state, Austria [earlier this month] deposited its ratification instrument for the International Agreement on the Unified Patent Court in Brussels."

Plans to establish a cheaper and more efficient way for inventors to gain patent protection across Europe have been mooted for years. Europe-wide protection is only possible at the moment by validating a patent registered with the European Patent Office (EPO) in each individual country. To be valid in a country a patent must be translated into its language. The European Commission has sought a cheaper system because of what it has said is the prohibitive cost of that process.

In 2010 12 EU member states got together to push for an EU-wide patent system. Under the Lisbon Treaty nine or more EU countries can use the EU's processes and structures to make agreements that bind only those countries. The broad proposals are broadly backed within the EU, although Italy and Spain have launched legal challenges against the plans, some of which were thrown out by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in April.

Under the unitary patent proposals a European patent holder would make only one application to the EPO for patent protection across the EU countries that sign up to the scheme, with successful patents being initially published in English, French or German and eventually translated into all three languages. Applications for unitary patent protection not made in any of those languages would have to be translated in order to be considered, although applicants would be compensated for the cost of this.

Earlier this summer a consultation on draft rules of procedure for the unified patent court (134-page / 974KB PDF) was launched.

Patent law expert Deborah Bould of Pinsent Masons previously warned of the potential for 'forum shopping' under the unified patent court regime and said that technology companies could also face delays in selling products in the countries where the new unitary patent framework will apply due to potential delays in dispute hearings.