On September 20, 2011, the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union has filed Document 14191/11 titled Compatibility of the draft agreement on the Unified Patent Court with the Union acquis. It was classified “LIMITE” but after having filed a request on the basis of Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents and the specific provisions concerning public access to Council documents set out in Annex II to the Council’s Rules of Procedure (Council Decision No 2009/937/EU, Official Journal L 325, 11.12.2009, p. 35) the General Secretariat has come to the conclusion that I may have access to this document. Hence, I expect this Document to become accessible in the Register very soon.

The Document conveys a non-paper from the Commission services who have analysed the compatibility of the draft agreement on the Unified Patent Court (UPC) with the Union acquis. In particular, they have checked the Draft against:

As a general result the Commission services concluded that the relationship between the Brussels I Regulation and the draft agreement on the Unified Patent Court should be clarified in a particular way as suggested in the paper. The Commission services  furtherrecall that the revision of the Brussels I Regulation is ongoing before the co-legislators. In addition, changes to the draft UPC Agreement should be made. It does not appear that issues of compatibility with other Union instruments would arise. A technical analysis of each of the provisions of the draft UPC Agreement should continue. It is clear that many procedural matters will need to be regulated in the rules of procedure.1 It is obvious that such rules will also need to comply with the relevant Union legislation. The UPC Agreement should clearly provide for this and foresee a mechanism how such compliance with the acquis may be ensured.

The problems concerning interaction of UPC and Brussels I are summarised as follows:

In the opinion of the Commission, the following points need careful attention:

  • First of all, it cannot be understood from the current text of the UPC Agreement how the rules on the Brussels I Regulation should apply. (The UPC Agreement refers to “jurisdiction” generally without clearly distinguishing between jurisdiction ratione materiae (on the merits) (Art. 15) and jurisdiction ratione loci (territorial jurisdiction) (Art. 15a). In addition, with respect to the latter, it is not clear from the text that the division of territorial jurisdiction in Article 15a concerns only the internal allocation of jurisdiction between the various divisions of the UPC without affecting the international jurisdiction. ) This could lead to confusion and misinterpretations. In order to ensure that the interpretation set out in point a) above is adopted, it seems highly desirable to clarify in the UPC how the jurisdiction rules of the Brussels I Regulation should apply in the context of the UPC Agreement. This could be done as follows:
    • Art. 15 should be called “jurisdiction ratione materiae”;
    • A new Art. 15a should be inserted called “international jurisdiction of the UPC”. This provision should provide for the applicability of the Brussels I Regulation and specify that the UPC will have jurisdiction any time a court of a participating Member State has jurisdiction on the basis of the Brussels I Regulation. If needed further clarification may be added in a recital;
    • The existing Art. 15a should be renumbered as Art. 15b

    At the same time, a recital could be inserted in the Brussels I Regulation clarifying that the reference to “courts” may include supra-national courts such as the UPC.

  • Article 22(4) of the Brussels I Regulation seems to be based on the idea that European Patents have to be revoked by each separate Member State. The current wording of this provision could lead to confusion when applied to a common unified court which can revoke patents for the territories of all participating Member States. It would seem highly desirable to clarify in the Brussels I Regulation that when a European patent has unitary effect, jurisdiction shall lie with the UPC insofar as Member States participating in the UPC Agreement are concerned;
  • BXL I contains an important protection of a defaulting defendant who was not served with the document instituting proceedings in sufficient time and in such a way as to enable him to arrange for his defence. In the Recast proposal, this protection takes the form of a right to request a rehearing of the case after the expiry of time limits for appeal. This protection should be guaranteed also in the context of proceedings before the UPC. This could be realised by amending Article 55 of the draft UPC Agreement ensuring that the possibility for rehearing provided for in that provision is available not only upon discovery of a new fact but also in the event of lack of effective service.
  • Most importantly, the application of the Brussels I Regulation in relation to non-participating Member States could give rise to challenges. In particular, it could be argued that the UPC Agreement is a convention on a particular matter referred to in Article 71 of the Brussels I Regulation. Even if the UPC Agreement might be considered not to govern the international jurisdiction or the recognition and enforcement of judgments within the meaning of that provision, it cannot be denied that it does have an impact on non-participating Member States because as a result of the internal division of competences within the UPC a defendant from a non-participating Member State could find him/herself de facto before a division which would not be situated in the Member State of the court designated by the rules of the Brussels I Regulation. While Art. 71 allows conventions on particular matters which already exist, it does not allow any such new conventions. The draft UPC Agreement could thus be considered to violate Art. 71 of the Brussels I Regulation.
  • In order to avoid such challenges and ensure proper application of the jurisdiction and lis pendens rules and the rules on recognition and enforcement, it seems necessary to insert a clause in the Brussels I Regulation which clarifies that the latter does not affect the application of the UPC Agreement. In addition, it would seem desirable to clarify the concrete application of both instruments in the Brussels I Regulation by specifically setting out how its rules apply when the UPC is seized or when a judgment given by the UPC must be recognised and enforced in non-participating Member States.

Hence, some work on the text of Brussels I appears to be necessary in order to properly implement the UPC.

Also with regard to the other parts of the acquis as examined, technical problems need to be resolved.

If all these issues are not sorted out properly right now, the real life practice of the UPC might later on become sort of a complex nightmare with numerous difficult legal problems waiting to be resolved by the Courts. The UPC is meant to provide more legal certainy; if the complex clockwork of Treaties, Regulations and Conventions isn’t adjusted properly, the EU Patent with unitary effect might fail in practice.

For now you may find Document 14191/11 here.

About The Author

Axel H. Horns

German & European Patent, Trade Mark & Design Attorney

3 Responses to Compatibility Of Draft Agreement On Unified Patent Court with EU acquis

  1. Gibus says:

    There is still another issue to clarify: with regard to the case law of the CJEU (notably AETR case), can Member States access to such an agreement on their own without the EU beeing party of the agreement?

  2. [...] the EU Patent (which he actually seems to be advocating for, due to his profit motive). He now reports on lack of compatibility: Hence, some work on the text of Brussels I appears to be necessary in [...]

  3. [...] appear to be more or less of a technical nature. In particular, some conclusions from the non-paper Document 14191/11 titled Compatibility of the draft agreement on the Unified Patent Court with the Union acquis [...]