Out-Law News 2 min. read

Unitary patent framework scheduled to be operational in 'early 2015'

Businesses could obtain unitary patent protection across most EU countries by making a single application for that protection from some time in early 2015, according to the Presidency of the EU's Council of Ministers.

In a new document (12-page / 53KB PDF) detailing some of the progress that is being made towards the formation of a new unitary patent framework, the Presidency said that a new unified patent court (UPC) system designed specifically to resolve disputes around new unitary patents could be operational from "early 2015".

The Presidency's document explained the measures that two separate committees have been engaging in to finalise arrangements for the new unitary patent system.

It said a select committee had been working on addressing "the financial and budgetary aspects of the implementation of the unitary patent protection". This specifically refers to "the level and the distribution of the renewal fees, the budgetary aspects of the tasks entrusted to the EPO ... and the implementation of the compensation scheme for the reimbursement of translation costs", it said. The select committee is due to complete its work by June 2014.

A separate group, known as the Preparatory Committee, is working specifically on the creation of the unified patent court framework, the Presidency said.

"To date the Preparatory Committee has held three meetings at which, among other issues, it established its Roadmap, launched a pre-selection procedure for future judges of the UPC, launched a public consultation on the draft Rules of Procedure of the UPC and discussed the financing of costs arising in the preparatory phase," the Presidency said. "It was decided that early 2015 would constitute an ambitious but realistic target date for the entry into operation of the Court."

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).

Under the new rules, which were backed by MEPs and EU Ministers in 2012, 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.

Part of the reforms requires the creation of a new 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 plans backed by most EU countries in February, 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 would be based in Paris and Munich.

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.

"The two EU regulations on the unitary patent protection shall apply from the date of the entry into force of the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court and a European patent for which unitary effect is registered in the Register for unitary patent protection shall have unitary effect only in those participating Member States in which the Unified Patent Court has exclusive jurisdiction," the Presidency's document confirmed.

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