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Brussels, 29 July 2013
Justice for growth: Commission fills legal gaps for unitary patent protection
The European Commission has today proposed to complete the legal framework for Europe-wide patent protection by updating EU rules on the jurisdiction of courts and recognition of judgements (the so-called “Brussels I Regulation”). The changes will prepare the way for a specialised European patent court – the Unified Patent Court – to enter into force once ratified, making it easier for companies and inventors to protect their patents. The court will have specialised jurisdiction in patent disputes, avoiding multiple litigation cases in up to 28 different national courts. This will cut costs and lead to swift decisions on the validity or infringement of patents, boosting innovation in Europe. It is part of a package of measures recently agreed to ensure unitary patent protection in the Single Market (IP/11/470).
“By making changes to the rules on recognition of judgements, we are paving the way for the new Unified Patent Court to begin its work. In the event of a dispute, companies will no longer have to launch actions before a number of courts in different countries,” said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. “Removing bureaucratic obstacles, extra costs and the legal uncertainty of having 28 different and often contradictory systems makes the single market more attractive. This is a very good example of how justice policies can stimulate growth.”
Internal market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier added "It is of crucial importance for Europe's competitiveness that innovators benefit as quickly as possible from the multiple benefits of the long awaited European unitary patent. The political agreement of December 2012 marked a major breakthrough, but the unitary patent will become a reality once the Unified Patent Court is established. We need to achieve this as quickly as possible, and today's proposal is another important step in that direction".
The figures speak for themselves. In the United States, in 2011, 224 000 patents were granted, in China 172 000 while in Europe only 62 000 European patents were delivered. One reason for the difference is the prohibitive cost and complexity of obtaining patent protection throughout the EU’s single market. At present, someone seeking to obtain Europe-wide protection for their invention has to validate European patents in all 28 EU Member States. The patent holder may become involved in multiple litigation cases in different countries on the same dispute. But this will change in the near future thanks to the agreement on the unitary patent package.
The Unified Patent Court – established under an agreement signed on 19 February 2013 (PRES/13/61) – will simplify procedures and lead to quicker decisions, with just one court case before the specialised court instead of parallel litigation in national courts. The Court will be able to deliver judgments on the validity and the infringement of European and unified patents for all the Contracting States, avoiding parallel proceedings and divergent outcomes. 25 Member States are participating in this unified patent framework, which is open to all Member States.
The Agreement relies upon the “Brussels I Regulation” (Regulation 1215/2012) to determine international jurisdiction of the Unified Patent Court.
The Commission is therefore proposing an amendment to the Brussels I Regulation to clarify how its jurisdictional rules will work in the context of the Unified Patent Court, as well as how the rules of the Regulation should be applied in relations between the Member States, Parties to the Unified Patent Court Agreement and the Member States not party to the Agreement.
The proposal will need to be agreed by Member States and by the European Parliament before becoming law.
The Commission is also encouraging Member States to ratify the Unitary Patent Court Agreement as quickly as possible, and to complete accordingly the preparatory work required for the Court to become operational, so that the first unitary patents can be granted in the shortest possible timeframe.
As EU law stands now, in disputes concerning the validity or an alleged infringement of a patent, the proceedings concerning validity must be brought before the courts of the Member State in which the patent was registered. Infringements proceedings may be brought before several courts, e.g., alternatively, the courts of the Member State of the defendant's domicile or before the courts of the Member State where the infringement occurred or may occur. In many patent infringement proceedings the defendant makes the point that the patent is invalid. This falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the state to which the patent is attributed. In practice this mean that the patentee may have to litigate in parallel proceedings, involving considerable cost, complexity and potential divergent outcomes in court decisions.
Efforts to create a single patent extending its legal effects across all European countries have been made since the 1970s but had never proven successful.
In December 2012, European Parliament and the Council reached a long awaited agreement on the European unitary patent package, which opened the way to the signature of the international agreement on the Unified Patent Court.
The unitary patent package will allow patent protection to be obtained for the 25 Member States taking part on the basis of a single application and without further administrative formalities, like validation and translation requirements, in the Member States. It will give inventors and companies access to the markets of all the Member States participating in the enhanced cooperation and the Unified Patent Court Agreement at a vastly reduced cost, with far fewer administrative hurdles to overcome.
The international agreement on the Unified Patent Court was signed on 19 February 2013. The Unified Patent Court will be competent to handle disputes concerning both future unitary patents and current "classical" European patents. The Agreement has now to be ratified by the Member States concerned. The Unified Patent Court will be a single specialised patent court, with local and regional presence around the EU. Instead of parallel litigation in national courts, the parties will be able to get swift and high quality decisions for all states where the patent is valid.
European Commission – Recognition and enforcement of judgements:
Homepage of Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Commissioner for Justice:
The patent reform: Unitary patent protection and the Unified Patent Court: