July 2012

EU patent law reform scales another hurdle

On 29 June 2012, the 25 Member States of the EU reached agreement on where to locate the “central division” of the new European patent court. In a typical European compromise, the court will be split between Paris (the seat), London (specialising in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals) and Munich (specialising in mechanical engineering).

A major diplomatic hurdle has thus been taken as a result of this agreement, and it appears that a negotiation marathon lasting almost 40 years can now be brought to an end. The first (Unitary) European Patents, effective in virtually all the EU Member States (with the exception of Italy and Spain),  may soon be granted. The aim of the Unitary Patent was to provide efficient, low-cost protection in a form that overcomes regional particularism yet maintains proximity to the parties. For example, various local courts are also to be established in the Member States under the auspices of the central seat. It appears at present as if three specialised courts will be established in Germany (including Düsseldorf and Mannheim), for example.

The present EP patent, as well as national patents and utility models, will continue to exist parallel to the Unitary EU Patent. (The present EP patent is not a unitary IPR. Once it has been granted by the European Patent Office, it “breaks down” into single national parts, so the applicant is able to control the territorial scope of patent protection that is required and the amount of costs that he is prepared to bear.)

Whether the hopes attached to the Unitary Patent will materialise in practice is still unclear. One thing is certain, however – consultations over which patent prosecution path to take and how to conduct patent infringement proceedings are likely to be based quite specifically on the needs of the client in future.

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