25 March 2013
After the adoption of the EU regulations on the unitary patent in December 2012 and the recent signing of the international agreement on the Unified Patent Court, a further milestone was reached last week with the convening of the so-called Select Committee. Representatives of the 25 member states participating in the unitary patent met with the EPO in Munich for the first time, and the European Commission as observer, to launch the Committee’s work.
That this first meeting could take place so soon after the signing of the agreement on the Court is in my view a clear sign of the political will of the participating countries to implement the unitary patent as soon as possible. The results were very positive. The Committee elected two highly qualified and committed participants in the unitary patent process – Jerôme Debrulle, head of the Belgian delegation, and Lubos Knoth, head of the Slovak delegation – to serve as its chair and vice-chair. It also initiated the discussion of its rules of procedure and launched an ambitious plan for its further work in the coming months.
One of the Select Committee’s main tasks will be to determine the appropriate level of fees for the unitary patent. Three constraints will have to be taken into account: first, the unitary patent must be attractive for the user community; second, it must be self-financed and budget-neutral for the EPO, since not all of the 38 EPO member states are involved; and third, some member states have expressed concerns about the expected amount of renewal fee income from the unitary patent, compared to the current situation. The EPO, which has been entrusted with granting and administering unitary patents, will provide the necessary expertise to facilitate efficient and balanced solutions.
In parallel, the member states will have to conduct their own national ratification procedures for the international agreement on the Unified Patent Court. Some of them have already taken the first steps towards this, and many are expected to ratify by the end of 2014. The Preparatory Committee for the Court will have to be very active in the coming months and address a number of complex issues, such as setting up a common IT system, to ensure that the Court can become operational in due time. The availability of a central jurisdiction, guaranteeing high-quality decisions, is crucial to the unitary patent system. Here, too, the EPO can contribute technical expertise to facilitate the creation of the court, for example, through the judicial training activities which the European Patent Academy has been organising for some years.
The participants in these preparatory meetings are fully aware of the challenges lying ahead and the work remaining to be done before the promised new instruments – the unitary patent and the Unified Patent Court – can be delivered to the users of the patent system in Europe. But the commitment to the process is strong, and those involved are determined to achieve a successful, sustainable outcome. I think we can confidently expect this to materialise in a reasonable time frame.