The preparatory committee, the committee that is coordinating the unitary patent and the UPC, issued a press release on 18 August which states that the new system is expected to come into force around the middle of 2022. The timeline also contains a number of intermediate steps. This is important news for anyone dealing with patents.
So what is it all about again? The current system, whereby a European patent that has been granted is broken down into a bundle of national patents is expensive and complicated. The unitary patent and the new court, the UPC, will greatly improve this situation as the process of obtaining, maintaining and enforcing a European patent with proper geographical coverage will become both simpler and cheaper. The same applies to matters such as transfers, licensing, pledging and name changes.
Work on this new system has been ongoing for over 40 years, but political and legal difficulties have so far prevented it from happening. This time, however, the signs are more favourable. The timetable published by the Preparatory Committee has most probably been coordinated with the various parties involved: the European Patent Office (EPO), the European Commission and the relevant officials in Brussels, as well as the various countries that have yet to ratify the UPC Treaty and the professionals working under the auspices of the Preparatory Committee on the practical preparations for the new court: the buildings, the ICT system and, of course, the appointments of judges and other staff.
This means that the relevant parties no longer see any major legal and political obstacles. There are still a number of practical solutions to be found for challenges related to Brexit, such as the location of one of the three divisions of the central courts which, according to the UPC Treaty, were to be established in London.
The publication of the timeline follows the rejection of two complaints filed with the German constitutional court . The fact that these complaints were turned down has speeded up the project.
Does your company have a patent portfolio? If it does, it is time to start thinking about what the unitary patent and UPC will mean for your company. If your company does not have a patent portfolio but your competitors do, we recommend that you look into any extra risks your company might be running. If you are innovating but do not have any patents yet, it is expected that the new system will put patent holders in a stronger position. In other words, if ever there were a good time to patent your intellectual property, it is now.
In the coming months, EP&C will be devoting a great deal of attention to the unitary patent and the UPC. So keep an eye on our channels.
Finally: is it absolutely certain that the unitary patent is going to happen? No, we are still keeping an open mind. It continues to be a complex project that is difficult to predict. But optimism is growing.