18 December 2012
Finally, the EU institutions managed to agree last week on the so-called patent package, including the unitary patent and the Unified Patent Court. They deserve all praise for this landmark result. The decision is in keeping with Europe’s continuous efforts to raise its competitiveness and attractiveness. Looking back at the interminable, fruitless debates on this dossier over the decades, one realises the scale of this very recent achievement, establishing not only a simple solution for innovators – covering, for the moment, 25 European countries – but also creating a complete, dedicated litigation system with jurisdiction for so many countries with widely differing legal traditions. This, in my view, is unparalleled, and those who have been involved in discussions on the harmonisation of legal systems will appreciate just how much effort has gone into last week’s decision. I would like to congratulate the past Presidencies and the EU Commission, and, more specifically, Commissioner Barnier, as well as the rapporteurs Bernhard Rapkay, Klaus-Heiner Lehne and Raffaele Baldassarre from the European Parliament, on their hard work and their skill in reaching a fair and balanced compromise among so many stakeholders.
A number of steps remain to be taken before the EPO will be in a position to deliver the first unitary patent. First, the entry into effect of the Regulation on the unitary patent depends on the setting up of the Unified Court, by an international agreement which is to be signed early next year and must then be ratified by at least 13 participant member states (including France, Germany, and the UK). I would strongly urge the national decision-makers to be active in moving this process forward, and enable the users to benefit soon from the new system. The unitary patent and the Court will also require a technical preparation phase, addressing matters such as the budget, IT provisions and procedural arrangements. The EPO, which is to take charge of administering the unitary patent, has already begun its preparations and is ready to take various initiatives to speed up the implementation of the system.
So, this is a not a time to rest on our laurels. I think, however, that we can and should take a moment to celebrate the major advance that has now materialised, which will greatly benefit the cause of Europe, and of patents and innovation.