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?
Articles 6 to 9 of the Unitary Patent Regulation relate to substantive patent law. They regulate the right to prevent direct and indirect use of the invention (Art. 6 and 7, respectively), the limitation of the effects of the ‘Unitary Patent‘ (Art. 8) and exhaustion of the rights conferred by the ‘Unitary Patent‘ (Art. 9).
As the question of which EU member state will receive the Central Division of the EU Unified Patent Court (see here, here, and here) is officially seen as the only remaining obstacle to the Unified Patent Court Agreement, the Unitary Patent Regulation already received green light from the EU Parliament’s legal committee (JURI) in late December (see press release) so that the EU Council already began to linguistically finalise the Regulation text in early January.
THE DISPUTE ON ARTICLES 6 TO 9
Even so, a strong and illustrious ‘opposition movement’ of legal professionals and their associations (e.g. EPLAW and Jochen Pagenberg, European Patent Judges and Sir Robin Jacob, Professor Krasser, CIPA), industry representatives (e.g. ICC, IP Federation), and a few politicians (e.g. JURI member Cecilia Wikström (SE, ALDE) [1, 2, 3] and UK IP Minister Baroness Wilcox) demanded Articles 6 to 8/9 to be removed from the Regulation to prevent substantive patent law from becoming subject to review by the European Court of Justice via referral questions according to Article 267 TFEU.
As reported earlier, there is a strong desire of (parts of) industry [1, 2] and patent professionals [1, 2, 3], politically supported by JURI member Wikström and UK IP Minister Baroness Wilcox, to remove Articles 6 to 8 dealing with substantive patent law on patent infringement from the proposed Regulation. The fears of those groups are that otherwise substantive patent law would become part of EU legal order causing costs, delays, legal uncertainty. A related resolution of the European Patent Lawyers Association EPLAW expressed such concerns recently in a rather pointed way:
If one wants a really unattractive, inefficient, unpredictable and probably extremely expensive patent court system, then we will get it; one must only give the ECJ a chance to receive as many referrals in patent law as possible.
If one wants to see substantive patent law in Europe to be decided by judges without any solid knowledge and experience in this field, then one must involve the ECJ whenever possible.
And if somebody intended to lay a solid ground for failure of this – at some time very promising – project, then he will probably succeed.
Now there is evidencs (see e.g. this tweet) suggesting that Ms Wikstrom has lost the battle over Articles 6 to 8, so that the provisions dealing with substantive patent law on patent infringement will remain part of the Unitary Patent.
Monday’s Competitive Council meeting under the Polish Presidency (Chair: Waldemar Pawlak, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy of Poland) was intended to finalise the EU Patent Package (i.e. a EU regulation covering the Unitary Patent and the its language regime and an international agreement on the Unified Patent Court). Right after the meeting it appead that, based on a compromise proposal by the Presidency, this aim was missed only by a faily small margin since, as was explained in a nightly press release
[...] The debate took place on the basis of a compromise package drawn up by the Presidency. The compromise was broadly accepted in substance, but the debate showed that further work is still needed. The Polish Presidency is committed to take the work forward with a view to reaching agreement on the creation of a unified patent court before end 2011. [...],
combined with a Presidency tweet according to which “only the seat of the Central Division of the Unitary Patent Court needs to be decided“, apparently meaning that all other issues have been fixed. And in fact, a supplementary press release of the Polish Presidency titled “Agreement on substantial issues of single EU patent” clearly confirmed that
Out of the whole patent package the only remaining issue to be decided is the seat of the central division of the Unitary Patent Court UPC (Court of the First Instance).
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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- business methods (6)
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- kelle on Germany: Copyright Protection More Easily Available For Works Of “Applied Arts”
- Time Limits & Deadlines in Draft UPCA RoP: Counting The Days - KSNH Law - Intangible.Me on Wiki Edition of Agreement on Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA)
- Time Limits & Deadlines in Draft UPCA RoP: Counting The Days | ksnh::law on Wiki Edition of Agreement on Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA)
- Wiki Edition of Agreement on Unified Patent Cou... on Wiki Edition of Agreement on Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA)
- European Commission Takes Next Step Towards Legalising Software Patents in Europe | Techrights on EU Commission publishes Proposal of amendend Brussels I Regulation for ensuring Enforcement of UPC Judgements
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