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.
As reported here and elsewhere [1, 2, 3], the European Council agreed on the EU Unitary Patent and a EU Unified Patent Court at last week’s Brussels EU summit after volatile negotiations – by ‘suggesting’ two significant amendments (see summit conclusion, page 2, item 3) as compared to what was know from the latest available draft text of the Unitary Patent Regulation dated 23 June 2011 (see here and here).
EU Court of Justice: The more severe one of those amendments that apparently was pushed through by UK Prime Minister David Cameron to please his eurosceptics allies at home, demands
that Articles 6 to 8 of the [Unitary Patent] Regulation [...] to be adopted by the Council and the European Parliament be deleted
essentially meaning that substantive EU patent law will not any more be subject to legal order of the Union highest court, the European Court of Justice (CJEU). I share my colleague’s view that this is nothing less than “an open declaration of deep mistrust, if not political warfare of significant parts of the UK conservatives against the CJEU and thus the European Union as a whole.
This move, however, could not escape the eyes of the European Parliament, which originally wanted to nod through this matter tomorrow (4 July 2012) whereas meanwhile the item was removed from the agenda under the harsh critics of rapporteurs Bernard Rapkay (S&D, DE) and Klaus-Heiner Lehne (EPP, DE): “scandalous breach of procedure“, “oriental bazaar” (did they read this item?), ”case would go straight to the European Court of Justice“. Due to the Council’s amendments, the first reading is thus rendered null and void.
It appears that the proudness of the Danish Presidency as well as the official cries of joy of e.g. EPO President Benoît Battistelli (“historic breakthrough“) and EU Commissioner Michel Barnier (“decisive step“) came far too early while stakeholders ask themselves if this mess could not have been prevented by a more transparent process, more cooperation with the potential system users, less political tactics, and less national egoisms and horse trading. It is depressive to say, but if the implementation of a reasonable EU patent system was the litmus test for Europe’s capacity for efficient policy-making, the conclusion can only be that the striking deficiencies of the EU’s political management appear to be insurmountable.
The EU Council thus made a big step forward on its way to achieve the final goal, as expressed in the annex of Doc 10059/12 of 24 May 2012:
On the 1st of April 2014 the system should be ready for the first registration of a European patent with unitary effect.
However, a number of steps – and one big legal problem – still remain to be taken. Already this July, the EU Parliament will have its first plenary session on the EU Patent Package that was postponed on 19 December 2011 by JURI (cf. minutes) and the EU Council will consider the issue as well:
- 3./4. July 2012: Parliamentary deliberations and votes on the three aspects of the “EU Patent Package” (unitary patent, translation arrangement, unified patent court);
- July 2012: Adoption of the Unitary Patent Regulation (unitary patent, translation arrangement) by the EU Council.
But it cannot be expected that the process will run smoothly, as the top-level negotiations at last week’s EU Summit ‘suggested’ – apparently under the pressure of David Cameron and eurosceptic Tory MPs lead by Bill Cash, Chairman of the influential Scrutiny Committee and ‘herald of the apocalypse‘ -
that Articles 6 to 8 of the [Unitary Patent] Regulation [...] to be adopted by the Council and the European Parliament be deleted.
To answer the above question right away, I do not hope so because otherwise the future of the European Community/Union, the great idealistic and visionary European project, would lie in ruins already. As a patent professional and keen enthusiast of the European idea, please allow me to share some personal comments based on the findings of my earlier posting on the Deficiencies of the EU Legislative Process for Implementing a Unified Patent Infrastructure, namely
- ignorance as to users and experts and their (mostly) well-founded observations;
- a striking lack of transparency preventing public involvement;
- an information policy that disguises more than it discloses; and
- national egoisms, inappropriate horse-trading and power games.
As already expressed earlier, I think that these frightening mechanisms and structural deficiencies of the European policy-making process may endanger stability and acceptance of and confidence in the European Union as a whole. As none of those features is adequate for a democratic legislation process in a cooperating Europe, the conclusion might be that Europe’s democracy is in danger. This, apparently, is at least the opinion of Mr Martin Schultz, President of the European Parliament, who recently demanded that a “restart” of European democracy is required, as “the Union must make the decision-making process more transparent so that a genuine European public sphere can emerge”. Well roared, lion!
The epic and painful process of drafting and implementing a unified European patent infrastructure, which got stuck again on the latest Competitiveness Council meeting of 31 May/1 June 2012 (see our reports here and here as well as further coverage , ) discloses frightening mechanisms and structural deficiencies of the European policy-making process that may endanger stability and acceptance of and confidence in the European Union as a whole, particularly before the background of the current severe financial and depths crisis that shakes the Union like nothing else before.
Upon a closer look at the process, four major problems can be identified that prevent EU politicians to find a reasonable solution satisfying the needs of the European innovative economy:
- Ignorance as to users and experts and their mostly well-founded observations;
- A striking lack of transparency preventing public involvement;
- An information policy that disguises more than it discloses; and
- National egoisms, inappropriate horse-trading and power games.
Below I collect some striking examples of each of the above four phenomena.
Now that François Hollande took office as the new President of France after his marginal victory in the French presidential elections this May, he will now introduce himself to official EU policy on his first Competitive Council meeting on May 31/June 1. The draft agenda for this meeting (cf. item 19), reading “Draft agreement on a Unified Patent Court and draft Statute – Political agreement“, electrifies observers of and parties involved the ongoing European patent legislation saga (see also press release, middle of page 5).
In recent months the upcoming French elections brought the negotiations on the Unified Patent Court Agreement to a complete standstill, as the dynamics between the French, British and German heads of govenment and the general political climate is a crucial factor in this legislative process, especially since the only serious and realistic candidates for the attractive seat of the new UPC Central Division are Paris, London, and Munich and it is frequently announced through official channels that this question is the only remaining open issue.
The EU Council expressed already in January this year its believe that a final agreement can be reached in June 2012 (see official statement) and it was the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, who clarified in a recent letter that he hopes (or expects) the remaining issues to be sorted out at next week’s Competitiveness meeting:
“[...] This deal is needed now, because this is an issue of crucial importance for innovation and growth. I very much hope that the last outstanding issue will be sorted out at the May Competitiveness Council. If not, I will take it up at the June European Council.”
But IP matters will not become easier in Europe with Mr Hollande, given his apparent openness to positions of critics of the current patent system. In fact, some of the answers (pdf) of Ms Fleur Pellerin (@fleurpellerin), responsible for the digital economy in Hollande’s campaign team, on a tendentious pre-election questionnaire of French anti software patent group “April” appear as if the socialist candidate for president (or his spokeswoman) was one of the ideological leaders of that pressure group:
The patentability of software would induce a partitioning of innovation that would be harmful to the ecosystem seen in its digital together. I am therefore opposed to the patenting of software.
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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- June 2011 (1)
- business methods (4)
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- EU law (84)
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