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Brussels, 4 March 2014
Justice for growth: Member States endorse Commission proposal to fill legal gaps for unitary patent protection
Ministers in the Council have today endorsed the compromise agreement on the European Commission's proposal to complete the legal framework for Europe-wide patent protection, updating existing EU rules on the jurisdiction of courts and recognition of judgments (IP/13/750). It is the last missing part for the establishment of a Europe-wide patent protection. This follows the European Parliament's legal affairs committee (JURI) vote in favour of the compromise text agreed in trialogues with the European Commission and the Council of Ministers (MEMO/14/101).
The proposal 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 taking a further step on the way to the new Unified Patent Court beginning its work," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner and Internal market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier. "Today's endorsement by Ministers confirms the commitment by Member States to set up the Unified Patent Court as quickly as possible and make unitary patent protection in the EU a reality. It is of crucial importance for Europe's competitiveness and growth that our businesses and innovators benefit from patent protection at a lower cost."
Next steps: After Ministers reached a general approach at the December Justice Council (MEMO/13/1109), the European Parliament now needs to vote on its report in plenary, which is expected at the latest in April 2014. The Commission is also encouraging Member States to ratify the Unitary Patent Court Agreement as quickly as possible, and to complete the preparatory work required for the Court to become operational accordingly, so that the first unitary patents can be granted in the shortest possible timeframe.
At present, someone seeking to obtain Union-wide patent 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 Agreement relies upon the “Brussels I Regulation” (Regulation 1215/2012) to determine international jurisdiction of the Unified Patent Court.
The Commission has therefore proposed 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.
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.