20 February 2013
Yesterday in Brussels, a historic moment arrived with the signing by 24 EU member states of the international Agreement on the Unified Patent Court (UPC). This completes the unitary patent package, following the recent entry into force of the two Regulations adopted in December last year. After more than 40 years of fruitless attempts to address the complexities of a transnational, specialised litigation system, this breakthrough is a remarkable achievement. Our warmest congratulations are due to the Irish Presidency and its predecessors, to the European Parliament and to the EU Commission, in particular Commissioner Barnier.
In the near future, for a potential market of more than 400 million consumers, inventors will have the option of a one-stop shop at the EPO for the examination of their patent applications and the handling of the post-grant phase, together with a unified litigation system. For many applicants and patent holders, this will offer major benefits by reducing costs, simplifying procedures and strengthening legal certainty. However, the patent package as a whole will still have to be implemented in a way that makes the new system attractive. This applies to both the unitary patent and the Court. Representatives of the user community have emphasised that the quality and efficiency of the new litigation arrangements and the level of renewal fees for the unitary patent are key elements which will determine whether the system succeeds in practice.
Thorough preparation is needed for the new system to become a reality. First, the process of ratification by national parliaments has to be efficiently conducted, although the fact that 24 EU member states were already able to sign the UPC Agreement on the appointed day is encouraging. Work must also begin at a more technical level. The EPO is prepared to do what is needed to facilitate rapid progress in the implementation of the unitary patent. For the UPC as well, the quality of the implementation is vital and should be given the highest priority. The EPO is already engaged in the internal preparations for its future tasks in the post-grant phase. We will be ready whenever the whole package becomes operational.
The challenges that lie ahead will certainly require careful thought. We are now on the brink of the implementation phase after the long-awaited decisions. Today, let’s celebrate this major step forward in improving the conditions for innovation and competitiveness in Europe.