11 June 2013
Last week, in the margins of the IP5 meeting, I had the opportunity to meet a number of senior IP executives from companies based in California. I always welcome this kind of direct contact with the EPO’s users, giving us a chance to inform them about our current projects and activities and to hear their feedback. US companies are the number one users of the European patent system, with a record 63 504 EPO filings in 2012 (+5.6% compared to 2011), accounting for 25% of the year’s filings total.
Much attention was devoted to the forthcoming implementation of the unitary patent package, including the Unified Patent Court. The level of fees, the various costs and the predictability of decisions were key topics of interest. Regarding the litigation arrangements for the unitary patent, specific concerns were expressed about the possible risks of broad preliminary injunctions and expensive discovery proceedings, and of facilitating the activities of patent trolls. However, as I pointed out, the European patent system offers a quite different environment, with a litigation rate that is traditionally far lower than in other regions, notably the US.
The fundamental political decisions on the unitary patent package have been taken at the EU level, but a great deal of preparatory work has still to be done before the system as a whole can become operational. The Select Committee of the EPO’s Administrative Council has already begun to play its part in defining the framework for the implementation of the unitary patent. The Committee’s deliberations will revolve around the need to offer an attractive tool to the business community, while ensuring that the system is self-financing.
For the litigation system, similar tasks are being addressed by a further body, outside the EPO framework, known as the Preparatory Committee and composed of representatives of the European countries that have accepted the Agreement on the Unified Patent Court. It is of the utmost importance to build a litigation system that is fit for purpose, incorporating all the necessary remedies and safeguards, and to find the right balance between the different interests at stake. The future Court will represent a synthesis of these basic principles, and the best-qualified and most experienced judges in the patent field in Europe will be selected to implement them.
I am convinced that users in and outside Europe will greatly benefit from this historic advance in the development of the European patent system.