As we have discussed previously, European Union member countries are completing the final steps to implement an intergovernmental system that will streamline the process for securing and enforcing patent rights across Europe. Having a simpler, centralized system in place will open up a new patent portfolio management strategy for small and medium-sized IP-driven companies.
However, for the Unified Patent Court to come into effect, 13 EU member states must ratify the agreement, and three of those must be the key G8 nations of France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. While France has ratified the agreement, and Germany is expected to follow suit, uncertainty in the UK means that the start of the UPC is likely to be delayed for months.
Brexit Impacts Unified Patent Court
The United Kingdom’s participation in the Unified Patent Court was a key requirement of the original agreement. As such, the UK’s June 2016 decision to leave the European Union was considered a potentially catastrophic setback. In November, though, the government of the United Kingdom announced that it was proceeding with preparations to ratify the Unified Patent Court Agreement.
Those preparations have not proceeded smoothly, however.
The UK was expected to ratify the United Patent Court Agreement in March, before the government triggered Article 50, the legal mechanism that starts the process for the UK to leave the European Union. That did not happen, and on March 29, Prime Minister Theresa May signed a letter invoking Article 50. Days later, the UK Intellectual Property Office stated that “preparations for ratification are progressing,” and predicted that the provisional application period would begin in the spring and the court would be open for business by December 2017.
Parliament Dissolved Before June Elections
Again, however, things did not proceed according to that timeline.
The UK Parliament closed its business session at the end of April and was fully dissolved on May 3, 2017. All business in the House of Commons has ended, and every seat is vacant until after the country’s general election on June 8, 2017.
Even after the election, it is unclear where the Unified Patent Court will fall in the UK government’s list of priorities. There also is no guarantee that Parliament will even finalize the UPC ratification before its summer recess, which currently is scheduled to run from July 20 to September 5.
While the uncertainty over the UK’s position on ratification of the UPC leaves much up in the air, one thing is clear: when the court does begin operating, it will change the landscape of international patent protection for decades to come. If you have questions about how the new Unified Patent Court may impact your patent portfolio strategy, contact an international patent attorney at Panitch Schwarze Belisario & Nadel at 888-291-5676.