In this earlier posting we discussed the compatibility of the Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA) with the Acquis Communautaire of the European Union. One of those aspects was an adaption of the Brussels I Regulation (Ref 1215/2012), which ensures recognition and enforcement of national court judgements in other EU member states (see also here and here). Article 89(1) UPCA requires that an adapted Brussels I Regulation entered into force before the UPCA can itself enter into force.
Thus, the task is to implement the Unified Patent Court as a court common to a subset of EU member states and subject to the same obligations under EU law as any other national court. A similar situation applies to the Benelux Court of Justice. As this court up to now only provided preliminary rulings on interpretation of the national law of Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg, it is now receiving new jurisdictional competences from the national courts of those three countries, thus giving cause to an adaptation of the Brussels I Regulation as well.
As the Brussels I Regulation up to now only relates to EU-wide recognition of civil and commercial judgements of national courts, it is apparent that a mechanism is required to ensure recognition of UPC judgements among the EU member states.
Now the EU Commission has issued a proposal for an amendment (COM(2013) 554 final) to clarify how the jurisdictional rules of Brussels I will work in the context of the UPCA and should be applied in relations between EU and UPC Member States (see press release).
Reades of this blog may have noticed that we try to cover the discussion about representation rights of European Patent Attorneys before the new Unified Patent Court. Our recent postings related to this issue may be found here, here, and here.
According to Art. 48 (1) UPCA, all national lawyers of the UPC member states are entitled to represent cases before the UPC, regardless of their knowledge and experience in patent law and practise. Art 48 (2) UPCA grants such individual representation rights also to European Patent Attorneys according to Art 134 EPC, if they have an “appropriate qualification such as a European Patent Litigation Certificate“.
Now a proposal of the Institute of Representatives before the European Patent Office (epi) came to our attention (download) in which criteria for the required “appropriate qualification” and a structure of the European Patent Litigation Certificate are proposed to the UPC Preparatory Committee which is in charge of definig this issue.
Appropriate Qualification: The paper states that an appropriate qualification of a European Patent Attorney (EPA) should include
abilities [...] going beyond the European Qualification Examination [...]. They should, in particular, reflect the necessary and desirable skills and knowledge for representation before the UPC.
A source of such abilities is seen in the
extensive experience acquired as patent attorney in their respective EPC member state, going beyond representation before the Patent Office.
15th UPC Draft Rules of Procedure open for Public Consultation
Yesterday, the much awaited website of the UPC Preparatory Committee went live under the domain www.unified-patent-court.org. A main purpose of this website is to inform the public about the Committee’s work and the UPC as such (see e.g. Q&A section). One of the most important tasks of the Committee is the preparation of the Rules of Procedure of the future Unified Patent Court.
After an inofficial 15th Draft has been leaked early June, the official 15th draft of the Rules of Procedure has been published yesterday and opened for
public consultation until 1 October 2013.
Written comments are to be submitted to email@example.com. So, please, colleagues, readers, and fellow bloggers, study the official draft and make submissions to the Preparatory Committee if necessary.
The further procedure after closure of the public consultation is explained as well:
[...] the Committee shall after closure of the written phase of the public consultation ask the Drafting Committee to evaluate the contributions received and to make proposals and comments ensuing from the public consultation. Further, the Committee intends to organise a public hearing on the draft rules of procedure in early 2014. The European Commission shall be asked to advise on the compatibility of the Rules of Procedure with European Union law. This will form the basis for the Committee’s Legal Framework Working Group to prepare the draft Rules of Procedure for approval by the Committee. As with all of the Committee’s preparatory work, also the Rules of Procedure will need to be adopted by the UPC’s Administrative Committee once it has been established.
The official version of the 15th draft differs form the inofficial version in a number of ways. One significant difference relates to Rule 286 governing, inter alia, the conditions under which non-lawyers (i.e. professionals that are not attorneys-at-law) may independently represent cases before the UPC. This rule has previously been criticised on this blog because of its striking lack of clarity (see here for the inofficial 15th draft version and here for the 14th draft version), as the 14th draft contained the unclear term “jurist” and the inofficial 15th draft contained an even more unclear recursive definition of the term “lawyer”.
Clarified Rule 286 (1) of the 15th draft RoP now reads as follows, with the crucial sentence highlighted:
A representative pursuant to Article 48(1) of the Agreement shall lodge at the Registry a certificate that he is a lawyer authorised to practise before a court of a Contracting Member State. Lawyers within the meaning of Article 48(1) of the Agreement are also persons possessing a law degree (jurist) who are authorised by the Swedish Patent Attorneys Board or equivalent body in a Contracting Member State. They shall lodge a certificate evidencing such authorisation. In subsequent actions the representative may refer to the certificate previously lodged.
Aspects of the UPC (2): Sunrise Period and Opt-out Fee
In this earlier posting on the transitional scheme and opt-out options we explained that the future European patent system will provide two different routes for patent protection, (i.) the classical EP bundle patent and (ii.) the new European Patent with unitary effect but, in the long run, only one judicial system namely the Unified Patent Court as established by the Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA).
During an at least seven-years long transitional period, however, proprietors/applicants of EP patents/applications can opt-out from the UPC system and ensure responsibility of the present European post-grant system with infringement and invalidity suits before national courts separately for each single nationalised EP patent, this circumventing the unitary effect of UPC proceedings (Art 83 UPCA).
We also pointed to the fact that there is a certain risk for EP patent proprietors to get stuck with the new UPC system and its unitary effect if, e.g, an invalidity suit is filed by a competitor before the proprietor can file an opt-out request for his patent(s).
Before this background, the recently published 15th Draft of the Code of Procedure (mark up version) provides a new Rule 5 (8) RoP implementing a sunrise period giving EP proprietors/applicants the option to opt-out before the UPC Agreement actually enters into force, thus preventing third parties to file legal suits by which a patent gets stuck with the UPC system:
An Application to opt out may be lodged with the European Patent Office after a date to be announced by the European Patent Office and before the coming into effect of the Agreement. [...]
At the time being, the length of the sunrise period is unknown.
Also new in comparison to the 14th draft of the Rules of Procedure are Rules 5 (3) and (6) RoP requiring fees for opt-out and withdrawal of opt-out (cf. also Rule 370 (2) RoP). The amount to be payed is not yet known, however, there are speculations that it will lie in the range of 200 to 400 EUR, which may sum up to a considerable amount of money if large portfolios are involved.
Unitary Patent Court: Are lawyers different from lawyers?
In this earlier posting we speculated about the representation rights of national German and UK patent attorneys before the new Unified Patent Court, based on the wording of Art 48 UPCA and the somewhat odd formulation of Rule 286 of the 14th Draft of the Rules of Procedure:
[...] Lawyers within the meaning of Article 48(1) of the Agreement are also jurists authorised to practice in patent related matters before a court in a Contracting Member State and they shall lodge a certificate evidencing such authorisation. [...].
We preliminarily concluded that the definition of the term “jurists” may extend the group of lawyers according to Art. 48 (1) UPCA by certain other legal professionals with a specific expertise, such as national patent attorneys that are allowed to represent their clients in national civil proceedings, e.g. German patent attorneys who are authorised to present invalidity cases before the German Federal Patent Court (BPatG) and the Federal Court of Justice (BGH).
Now the 15th Draft of the Code of Procedure (mark up version) has found the daylight – not on an official server of the Preparation Committee, but in a somewhat obscure way via the private US-based mailchimp service.
Besides other interesting amendments in comparison to the the 14th draft (see e.g. here), Rule 286 CoP has been amended by replacing the term “jurist” by the term “lawyer”. The new passage thus reads:
Lawyers within the meaning of Article 48(1) of the Agreement are also lawyers authorised to practice in patent related matters before a court in a Contracting Member State and they shall lodge a certificate evidencing such authorisation.
What is the sense of this – mathematically speaking - recursive definition?
Article 48 (1) UPCA generally covers “lawyers authorised to practise before a court of a Contracting Member State”, i.e. all attorneys-at-law of the Contracting member states. We thus have two definitions, whereas the second defines is a genuine subset of the first:
- lawyers authorised to practise before a court of a Contracting Member State, and
- lawyers authorised to practice in patent related matters before a court in a Contracting Member State.
What is the sense in clarifying that a genuine subset of the group of entitled lawyers is entitled as well?
The most probable answer is that this recursive – and thus unclear – definition is nothing more than a drafting error caused by a quick-and-dirty approach to end speculations like the above ones about representation rights of some national patent attorneys. In the present form, Rule 286 (1) 15th Draft CoP might then just be useless and needs to be cancelled in the 16th draft.
On the other hand, one may also argue that the existence of Rule 286 (1) changes (downgrades) the scope of the term “lawyer” in Art 48 (1) UPCA to “person practicing law” or simply “legal counsel”, which would immediately render the two definitions meaningful again, as they would read
- legal counsels [generally] authorised to practise before a court of a Contracting Member State, and
- lawyers authorised to practice [only] in patent related matters before a court in a Contracting Member State.
The first definition would then cover attorneys-at-law and the second, again, such national patent attorneys that are authorised to represent certain patent cases before national civil courts. In this case, however, the amendmet would be useless as well as it does not change anything as compared to the 14th draft version.
Regardless of the way Rule 286 (1) may be interpreted in the present form or amended in future, it certainly is not an indication of the utmost care the Preparation Committee should pay to the Rules of Procedure as the backbone of the new court system.
Aspects of the UPC (1): Transitional Scheme and Opt-Out
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.
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.
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.
After the last-minute amendments of the Unitary Patent Regulation (UPR) by the European Council on 28/29 June, who suggested
that Articles 6 to 8 of the Regulation [...] to be adopted by the Council and the European Parliament be deleted
lead to a removal of this matter from the EU Parliament’s agenda and unleashed a wave of revulsion among members of the EU Parliament in general and those of its legal committee (JURI) in particular (see here and here), the direction in which today’s JURI meeting would go was not utterly hard to predict.
And in fact, today’s press release confirmed what could have been expected anyway:
The European Council’s move to change the draft law to create an EU patent would “infringe EU law” and make the rules “not effective at all“, Bernhard Rapkay (S&D, DE), who is responsible for the draft legislation, told the Legal Affairs Committee on Tuesday. Most MEPs strongly criticised the European Council’s move and agreed to resume the discussion in September.
Apparently, this opinion is backed by the Parliament’s legal service, assuming that deleting Articles 6 to 8 UPR would “affect the essence of the regulation” thus be incompatible with EU law.
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