What is the impact of the UK’s referendum on its EU membership on the UPCA?

WIPR published on its blog last week an update about the UK’s ratification of the UPCA, as it appears that it might only take place after the referendum on the country’s EU membership.

The European Union Referendum Bill was passed by the House of Commons on 9th June and if passed by the House of Lords, the referendum will be held before the end of 2017. The WIPR however notes that the UPCA ratification by the UK is unlikely to happen before the EU referendum, which means that the UK’s ratification might be postponed to the very end of 2017 or beginning of 2018. This late ratification will of course have a direct impact on the entry into force of the UPC as it requires the ratification of ten countries plus the ratification of France, Germany and the UK for the court to come into existence. The 2016 ambitious entry into force of the UPCA is thus very likely to be once again postponed.

If the UK were to leave the EU this would however not mean the end of the UPC. In fact, article 89 of the UPCA states that:

This Agreement shall enter into force … on the first day of the fourth month after the deposit of the thirteenth instrument of ratification or accession in accordance with Article 84, including the three Member States in which the highest number of European patents had effect in the year preceding the year in which the signature of the Agreement takes place …

A“Member State” is in turn defined in Article 2(b) as “a Member State of the European Union”. Therefore if the UK decides that it does not want to take part anymore in the European Union,  the Netherlands would become the third mandatory ratification country, as it is the country with the highest number of European patents after the UK.

If the end of the UK’s membership in the European Union does not mean the end of the Unified Patent Court Agreement, it would however have other practical consequences. In fact the UK is in in charge of various responsibilities within the UPC preparatory committee and notably the IT system. This major part of the UPC would thus need to be allocated to a country which has the capacity to put together an IT system within a short period of time. Another issue is the fact that one of the central division will be located in London. It would not make sense for the UK to host one entity of the central division if it does not ratify the UPCA and takes part in the Unified Patent Court. Article 7(2) of the UPCA however states that “The central division shall have its seat in Paris, with sections in London and Munich …” and Annex II to the Agreement specifies the functions of the London branch. An amendment of the UPCA would therefore be necessary in order to relocate the London central division. This amendment could of course be quite complicated to set up and might necessitate the countries who have already ratified the UPCA to ratify this amendment too.

Finally it must be noted that the most obvious consequence of the UK exiting the EU is the fact that the scope of protection offered by the unitary patent will not include the UK, and will therefore be narrower than it is now. The question is therefore whether this will make the unitary patent less attractive for patentees.

The issue of the UK’s referendum on its participation to the European Union will thus have direct consequences for the UPC, whether the UK stays within the EU or leaves the Union, and the UPC Blog by LAVOIX is keen to know what you think about this new development.