In one of our latest postings on the legal and political shadows of the Unified Patent Court Agreement we concluded that the stuck ‘seat issue’ will now have to be decided on the top executive level, i.e. in personal talks between Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prime Minister David Cameron, and - should he survive the French presidential election in April/May 2012 - Nicolas Sarkozy as the only serious and realistic bits were Berlin, London, and Paris, respectively.
While the German government always claimed the seat of a European Patent Court, should such court ever exist, London became a candidate rather late and only after intervention of the UK legal profession and Paris was considered a compromise location to prevent a deadlock between Munich and London. None of these bits is ideal for everyone as each has considerable drawbacks, as has been recently summarised on FT.com “few other EU countries are happy with a Munich seat because the city is already the home to EPO“, “Britain lacks goodwill or allies“, and “French inflexibility has been damaging“.
As German Chancellor Angela Merkel – probably being at the climax of her political power – has recently made clear that she is “unwilling to drop her demands” given the fact that Germany is the strongest EU economy and the largest patent filing EU state, EU diplomats assume in the meantime that David Cameron is simply pushing the price up but does not have a realistic chance to succeed given Great Britain’s general EU scepticism and weak position within the Union.
Now my colleague and fellow blogger Axel Horns has found further evidence for the German determination to bring the court to Munich, where it might move into the premises of the Federal Patent Court (BPatG), whose current users are likely to lose many cases to the new EU Patent Court, should it ever become reality. The impressive neo-barock Justizpalast of Munich (in which, by the way, the members of the White Rose were sentenced in 1943) might, however, not be available.
While the federal government has emphasised the idea of a German court location for many years and France has its own ambitions, the objectives and fortitude of the British Government remain unclear, even though the public debate – especially in the blogosphere – positioned London as a favourite candidate. From a more realistic point of view, the recent EU skeptic policy of Her Majesty’s Government under PM Cameron might have significantly reduced London’s chances to win the race.
Before this background, a recent written parliamentary question of Doris Barnett (Social Democrats), Member of the German Parliament (Bundestag), gave the Federal Government the opportunity to take a public position on this issue. Question 50 of the Drucksache 17/8723 (in Germany) reads:
[W]hat are the efforts undertaken by the Federal Government in order to take care that in the case of a creation of the European Patent Court the seat [of the Central Division] will be located in Germany?
Dr Max Stadler, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Justice under Minster Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (both Liberals), answered the question as follows (cf. Plenarprotokoll 17/161, page 1919 onwards; in German):
[...] The Federal Government strongly advocates in the negotiations that the seat of the Central Division will be in Munich. As the European capital city of patents Munich is best suited for the headquarters of the Patent Court. The European Patent Office, which will grant EU patents, has its headquarters here. The required technical skills of judges and attorneys/lawyers are available here in particular. France has also applied for the seat (Paris). The overall agreement largely depends on the seat of the Central Division. The Federal Government will continue on all levels to advocate Munich as the seat of the Central Division.
The decentralized structure of the Court provides that patent infringement cases are brought before Local or Regional Division residing in the Member States. It can be taken for granted that the Local Divisions located in Germany will have a significant proportion of the total volume of litigations.
What is interesting is that Max Stadler who represents Germany in the negotiations and should really know about the process only mentioned Paris and completely left aside the London bit.
That might be a strong indication that London does not have the best chances to succeed. Some reasons for London’s weak position have been given here:
The UK has done very little of the heavy lifting during the EU patent talks, preferring to leave it to France, Germany and a succession of EU presidencies. Politically, the UK is also more detached from the EU mainstream than ever. I just cannot see how we can expect the rest of Europe to take our claims for the court seriously – especially as we are not a part of the Eurozone [...].
In any case, an agreement on the Court location is not to be expected before the French general elections in April/may this year, while the EU Council expressed in an official statement his believe that a final agreement can be reached in June 2012 at the latest.
As Angela Merkel strongly supports Nicolas Sarkozy’s election campaign (which earned her critisism in Germany) it is an imaginable option that a President-elect Sarkozy will thank Angela Merkel’s help by agreeing on Munich. Given the current opinion polls, however, it appears to be the far more likely option that Europe will have to learn François Hollande‘s ideas about the Unified Patent Court system.
Volker 'Falk' Metzler
European Patent Attorney, German 'Patentanwalt', European Trademark and Design Attorney, Computer Scientist, PhD, IP Blogger, Father of Two, Mountain Enthusiast
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Some of the patent attorneys of the KSNH law firm have joined their efforts to research what is going on in the various branches of IP law and practice in order to keep themselves, their clients as well as interested circles of the public up to date. This blog is intended to present results of such efforts to a wider public.
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