16 December 2013
Less than a year after the entry into force of the EU Regulations on unitary patent protection and the signing of the Agreement on the Unified Patent Court (UPC), it is gratifying to see the steady progress in the preparation and implementation of these two major projects for the benefit of inventors and industry in Europe.
The Select Committee dealing with the unitary patent became operational in March of this year, but the participant member states have already met seven times. Important decisions on the Committee’s rules of procedure have been adopted. Significant advances have been made in the drafting of the legal texts for the implementation of the unitary patent, which would make a final decision possible in the first half of 2014. The practical implementation of the compensation scheme for translation costs and the procedure for setting fee levels has also been discussed. Representatives of industry and patent attorneys are present during all these exchanges, to provide their valuable input as practitioners.
I am also pleased at the progress in the work of the Preparatory Committee with responsibility for setting up the UPC. The EPO has observer status on this body. In a number of cases, the same member state representatives are participating in both committees, which, given the close connections between the two parts of the unitary patent package, is important for the success of the venture as a whole. A proposal of the EU Commission to amend the Brussels I Regulation concerning jurisdiction and the enforcement of judgments, with the aim of helping to bring the Agreement on the UPC into effect, was submitted at the end of July and agreed by the Council on 6 December. This represents another decisive step, and the European Parliament is expected to adopt its report during the first half of the coming year.
Complementing the activities of the Select Committee, the EPO has been working to gather more diversified input on the subject of the unitary patent. This is being pursued through the Office’s Economic and Scientific Advisory Board, an independent entity set up in 2011 to support the EPO with evidence-based policymaking. A two-day workshop on the unitary patent, held at our Munich headquarters on 3 and 4 December, attracted numerous representatives of industry and the patent community, together with academic lawyers and economists. Although the attitude at this preliminary stage was understandably cautious, most of those attending expressed a positive opinion on the unitary patent project and the ongoing preparatory work.
I am convinced that the decision to rely on the expertise of the EPO for the technical handling of the unitary patent, under the control of the participant member states, has a key significance for the quick and successful implementation of the package. This is indicated also by the smooth integration of the Select Committee in the governance of the European Patent Organisation, provision for which was included from the outset in the text of the European Patent Convention adopted in 1973. The unitary patent will undoubtedly benefit from the trust of the user community, built up over the years, in the capacity of the EPO to bring complex and demanding projects to a successful conclusion.
Bearing in mind the pace of the ratification process for the UPC, it is possible that the first unitary patent application will be issued in 2015. But this will also ensure that time remains available in the coming year to fine-tune the preparatory work for a system which will be sound and will deliver the highest quality.