The new European patent system will provide two concurrent routes to patent protection on the continent, (i.) the classical EP bundle patent, “which does not benefit from unitary effect by virtue of EU Reg No 1257/2012” and thus has to be validated in each EPC member state where protection is sought and (ii.) the European Patent with unitary effect effective in all ‘contracting member states’ that have signed and ratified the Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA) at the time of grant.
While Unitary Patents are mandatorily subject to proceedings and lawsuits before the Unified Patent Court (Art 3 (a) UPCA), this is not the case for classical EP patents (cf. Art 3 (c), (d) UPCA). For EP patents and applications pending at the date of entry into force of the Agreement, Article 83 UPCA defines a rather liberal transitional scheme allowing EP patent proprietors and applicants to make use of the present European post-grant patent system for many years to come. This transitional scheme consists of two basic elements, a transitional period and an opt-out mechanism.
With Document 7265/13 dated March 08, 2013, the Irish EU Presidency has published some information concerning setting up of the Preparatory Committee in the context of the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court. A meeting of the Friends of the Presidency group (Patents; see Document CM 1560/13) was convened on February 27, 2013, with the objective of both hearing and considering delegations’ views on how this Preparatory Committee could be organised. According to the recently published Document, a clear consensus emerged from the Signatory States endorsing a non-paper circulated by The Netherlands and Sweden, including the proposal that the work be driven by the Member States, and thus outside the framework of existing institutional structures. In this latter respect, a number of Signatory States offered to put their resources – human and/or logistical – at the service of the Preparatory Committee once it begins its work. The European Commission offered its expertise, as and when requested by the Preparatory Committee.
Now, the Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER) is invited to take note:
- of the agreed position of the Signatory States regarding the Preparatory Committee of the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court, as set out in the paper contained in the Annex to Document 7265/13 and in the cover note thereof;
- of the intention of the Presidency to convene the inaugural meeting of the Preparatory Committee on 26 March 2013 in Brussels; and
- that Council, at the appropriate level, will be kept informed of progress of the work of the Preparatory Committee when needed.
A list of four main tasks to be elaborated in groups with project teams can be identified:
- Legal framework,
- Financial aspects,
- IT & Facilities, and
- Human resources & Training.
Inspired by this discussion of our recent posting on the latest draft UPC rules of procedure it appears to be high time to have a closer look into Article 48 UPC and related Rule 286 RoP in order to possibly figure out the legislator’s idea of representation rights.
As European and German patent attorneys we still remember the recommendation of the 2006 Venice Patent Judges Symposium according to which only “attorneys-at-law who are fully entitled to represent parties in ordinary civil proceedings in the courts of first instance of the convention states” should be authorised to represent cases before the UPC (see Venice II resolution, page 11, item 5). Later, at the peak of the lobbying battle for representation rights (see e.g. here and here) also the European Parliament’s JURI Committee and its influential rapporteur Klaus-Peter Lehne, an attorney-at-law and partner of international law firm Taylor Wessing, urged it is of “utmost importance” that
the parties should be represented only by lawyers authorised to practise before a court of a Contracting Member State; the representatives of the parties might be assisted by patent attorneys who should be allowed to speak at hearings before the Court [2011/2176 (INI)]
Different voices came from industry organisations, patent practitioners and academia, who raised for good reasons (see here, here, here) that European Patent Attorneys should be authorised to represent their clients before the UPC as well.
Before this background, Article 48 UPCA can be understood as an acceptable compromise:
(1) Parties shall be represented by lawyers authorised to practise before a court of a Contracting Member State.
(2) Parties may alternatively be represented by European Patent Attorneys who are entitled to act as professional representatives before the European Patent Office pursuant to Article 134 of the EPC and who have appropriate qualifications such as a European Patent Litigation Certificate.
(3) The requirements for qualifications pursuant to paragraph 2 shall be established by the Administrative Committee. A list of European Patent Attorneys entitled to represent parties before the Court shall be kept by the Registrar.
(4) … (7)
According to this provision, basically three groups of professionals are authorised to independently represent cases before the UPC, namely
- European Patent Attorneys having the European Patent Litigation Certificate, and
- European Patent Attorneys having an appropriate qualification.
Today, on February 19, 2013 at 1415h, the signing ceremony of the International Agreement on the establishment of the Unified Patent Court
will take has taken place in the Justus Lipsius building of the Council of the European Union located in Brussels.
The event can be followed by video streaming:
As far as we know, 22 countries are today going to sign the Agreement (in brackets: year of accession to EU or predecessor organisations):
- Austria (1995),
- Belgium (1952),
- Cyprus (2004),
- Denmark (1973),
- Estonia (2004),
- Finland (1995),
- France (1952),
- Germany (1952),
- Greece (1981),
- Hungary (2004),
- Ireland (1973),
- Italy (1952),
- Latvia (2004),
- Lithuania (2004),
- Luxembourg (1952),
- Malta (2004),
- Netherlands (1952),
- Portugal (1986),
- Romania (2007),
- Slovakia (2004),
- Sweden (1995), and
- United Kingdom (1973)
Bulgaria (2007),(see UPDATE below) the Czech Republic (2004), (see UPDATE below)
- Poland (2004) and
Slovenia (2004)(see UPDATE below)
have indicated that they would not be in a position to sign the agreement next week because they still had technical issues to resolve. They are expected to sign at a later date.
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While nowadays most of the initial filings with the European Patent Office (EPO) or with the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM) are made via electronic means, a lot of other communication between the respective Office and the applicants or their representatives usually still is dealt with by paper-based means. For example, the EPO sends an awful amount of registered letters every day, and the OHIM mainly uses telefax for sending out Official communications and for receiving responses thereto.
In this context it should be noted that the new Unified Patent Court will be the first major European institution in the field of IP which adopts a policy solely allowing electronic communication, effectively banning all paper-based backdoors. Article 44 of the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court stipulates:
The Court shall make best use of electronic procedures, such as the electronic filing of submissions of the parties and stating of evidence in electronic form, as well as video conferencing, in accordance with the Rules of Procedure.
In the 14th Preliminary set of provisions for the Rules of procedure of the Unified Patent Court this matter is picked up by Rule 4, reading as follows:
Rule 4 – Lodging of documents
Written pleadings and other documents shall be lodged at the Registry in electronic form. Parties shall make use of the offcial forms available on-line.
“Written pleadings and other documents shall be lodged at the Registry in electronic form” – no exceptions allowed. At first we note that the internal competence for dealing with filings appears to lie with the Registry of the Court. As a second point, there will be “offcial forms” for each and every potential filing which must be usted and, after being filled in, filed electronically.
Moreover, throughout the full text of the Draft Rules of Procedure there are 25 mentions of “electronic address” of the Court and/or parties involved.
Neither those above-mentioned “official forms” nor the “electronic addresses” are explained in any technical detail within the Draft of the Rules of Procedure.
Closely related to these on-line issues are telephone and video conferences as indicated in Rule 105. There is no Rule defining applicable technologies for such purposes.
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A few days ago, the 14th Draft of the preliminary set of provisions for the Rules of procedure of the Unified Patent Court dated January 31st, 2013, has appeared on the Internet. This means that now all main components of the new EU Unitary Patent & Unified Patent Court system are either final or at least available in a quite recent draft version. The text comprises 382 Rules and covers a wide range of procedural law to be applied in cases before the new court, including:
- Application and interpretation of the Rules of Procedure,
- Procedures before the Court of First Instance,
- Provisional Measures,
- Procedures before the Court of Appeal,
- General provisions,
- Fees and legal aid.
This is just a brief note that the final text of the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court has just been published today. It is available in Document 16351/12 via the Document server of the Council of the European Union.
Hard-coded in Article 84 (1) is a provision setting the date on which the Agreement open for signature by any Member State to
February 19, 2013.
The Regulation (EU) No 1257/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council December 17, 2012 implementing enhanced cooperation in the area of the creation of unitary patent protection has already been published in the Official Journal of the EU Number L 361/1 dated December 31, 2012.
The Regulation (EU) No 1260/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council December 17, 2012 implementing enhanced cooperation in the area of the creation of unitary patent protection with regard to the applicable translation arrangements has already been published in the Official Journal of the EU Number L 361/89 dated December 31, 2012.
The short answer is … we don’t know yet!
A slightly longer answer is: It will, in the end, depend on the CJEU’s own interpretation of Article 5 of the Unitary Patent Protection Regulation (UPPR) and its understanding of the nature of the Unitary Patent Court Agreement (UPCR).
And a straightforward answer may be: Only very rarely, if at all, because of three reasons:
- The CJEU is not a regular third instance above the two instances of the Unified Patent Court.
- The centralised structure of the Unified Patent Court – involving a Central Division in the first instance and a sole Court of Appeal as the second instance – will largely ensure uniform interpretation of substantive patent law anyway.
- As substantive patent law is largely harmonised in Europe already and thus falls under the acte-clair-doctrine, there are only very limited substantive patent law issues left that are in risk of being interpreted differently in different countries (or by different local/regional UPC divisions) and would thus need to be decided by a preliminary ruling according to Art 267 TFEU.
The more detailed answer. While all this may or may not be true, it still makes sense to (again) look closer into Article 5 UPPR, which has been introduced as Article 5a into the draft Regulation on the EU Council meeting of 28/29 June 2012 in exchange of former Articles 6 to 8 draftUPPR that caused so much headaches to (parts of) the profession and industry (see e.g. here and here), especially in the UK (see here). The removed UPPR articles have been introduced into the UPCA as new Articles 14f to 14i. New Article 5 UPPR and its crucial § 3 reads:
Article 5 (Uniform protection)
1. The European patent with unitary effect shall confer on its proprietor the right to prevent any third party from committing acts against which that patent provides protection throughout the territories of the participating Member States in which it has unitary effect, subject to applicable limitations.
2. The scope of that right and its limitations shall be uniform in all participating Member States in which the patent has unitary effect.
3. The acts against which the patent provides protection referred to in paragraph 1 and the applicable limitations shall be those defined by the law applied to European patents with unitary effect in the participating Member State whose national law is applicable to the European patent with unitary effect as an object of property in accordance with Article 7.
But what does that mean?
As recently reported on this blog, the Unitary Patent Project of the European Union has been driven some big steps forward during December last year. The crucial dates were:
- 10 Dec 2012: The European Council endorses the EU Unitary Patent Package.
- 11 Dec 2012: The Advocate General of the CJEU hands down his opinion to dismiss the appeals of Spain (C-274/11) and Italy (IC-295/11) against enhanced cooperation in the field of unitary patent protection.
- 11 Dec 2012: The European Parliament approves the EU Unitary Patent Package.
- 17 Dec 2012: The European Council approves the EU Unitary Patent Package.
The texts finally adopted and approved by the competent EU institutions are the following:
- Proposal for a regulation implementing enhanced cooperation in the area of the creation of unitary patent protection, Regulation EU 1257/2012 (cf. consolidated text of 17/12/12 (PE-CONS 72/1/11); texts adopted on 11/12/12; cf decision-making monitor and procedure file),
- Proposal for a regulation implementing enhanced cooperation in the area of the creation of unitary patent protection with regard to the applicable translation arrangements, Regulation EU 1260/2012 (cf. consolidated text of 12/12/12 (18855/2/11 REV 2); texts adopted on 11/12/12; cf. decision-making monitor and procedure file),
- Resolution on jurisdictional system for patent disputes (cf. latest draft agreement of 14/11/12; texts adopted on 11/12/12; cf. procedure file).
While the political class is celebrating its ultimate success (e.g. Commissioner Michel Barnier, the Council Presidency, the EU Parliament, and the EPO with its President Benoît Battistelli), the political driving forces predict (and expect) even more ambitious progress on the final meters of implementing the new post-grant patent infrastructure in (some parts of) Europe:
- 18 Feb 2013 – Signature of the UPC Agreement and start of the ratification process (UPC will enter into force upon 13 ratifications, including mandatory ratifications in UK, France and Germany, cf. Art. 59 UPC Agrmnt),
- 01 Nov 2013 – Full ratification of UPC Agreement expected,
- 01 Apr 2014 – Issuance of first unitary patents by EPO and Unified Patent Court ready to receive first cases.
The project, however, is not at all cut and dried and there certainly is no automatism leading to its implementation within the 25 EU member states that originally supported enhanced cooperation. In fact, there are more challenges ahead than one may expect, especially with respect to the national ratification processes, which are required as the UPC Agreement, as an international treaty, will transfer statutory legal rights (i.e. national patent jurisdiction) to the European level.
While in the European Parliament the plenary debate on the Unitary Patent Package is going on, Mr Yves Bot, Attorney General in charge of joint cases C‑274/11 and C‑295/11 pending before the Court of Justice of the European Union, has delivered his opinion: In Italian and a few not-so-common languages. However, Google might be your friend in such situations:
IV – Conclusion
163. In the light of all the foregoing considerations, I propose that the Court should:
1) dismiss the appeal;
2) order the Kingdom of Spain (Case C-274/11) and the Italian Republic (Case C-295/11) to take charge of their own costs and the Council of the European Union and the interveners to bear their own costs .
Just to remind you: Both cases have been filed by Italy and Spain, respectively, in order to challenge the decision of the EU Council to allow the instrument of enhanced co-operation provided by the Lisbon Treaty (under certain conditions disputed in the lawsuit). But Mr Bot’s Opinion is not necessarily the last word on that matter: First, the Court is free to depart from Mr Bot’s Opinion, second, at some later point in time a case might be filed allowing CJEU to have their say as to whether or not the Unitary Patent package as debated in the Parliament just this minute is compatible with EU treaties or not.
[UPDATE 2012-12-11 11:05] Meanwhile also translations in many other languages are available on-line, e.g. in English
[UPDATE 2012-12-11 13:25] Just an hour or so ago, the European Parliament has approved the Unitary Patent package:
The Rapkay report was approved by 484 votes to 164 with 35 abstentions.
The Baldassarre resolution was approved by 481 votes to 152 with 49 abstentions.
The Lehne report was approved by 483 votes to 161, with 38 abstentions.
Procedures: Co-decision (Ordinary Legislative Procedure) 1st reading (unitary patent), Consultation (language regime), non-legislative resolution (unified patent court)
Press conference: Tuesday, 11 December at 15:00
The k/s/n/h::law blog
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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