The Unified Patent Court Preparatory Committee and Select Committee recently released an explanatory note on the “Enhanced European Patent System” detailing the purpose of the future Unified Patent Court and Unitary Patent and the key points on how this major patent reform will articulate itself with the existing European and National patents and existing jurisdictions.
The UPC Blog has extensively posted on the Unified Patent Court competence and procedure, on the nature of the unitary effect and the general overview and background of both the UPC (Unified Patent Court) and the UP (Unitary Patent). It is however the first time that the committees (see our posts on the Select committee and the Preparatory Committee) involved in the setting up of the UPC release an explanatory note. It is thus the first time that clarifications rather than interpretations are made about the UPC agreement. This post will focus on three key points of the UPC explanatory note, which bring some explanations to the cacophony of information published so far, without nonetheless answering all the questions.
Before looking at these three substantial points, it is important to start with the reassertion from the Select and Preparatory Committees that the Unitary Patent directly derives entirely from the European patent, which provides the shell onto which the unitary effect hooks up. So to obtain a Unitary patent an applicant must first apply for a European patent at the European Patent Organisation, which will handle the application in accordance with the European Convention. It is only after grant that the proprietor of a European patent will have the opportunity to apply for unitary effect. However if for a European patent it is necessary for the patent holder to validate the patent in each Member state where protection is required, for a unitary patent a single request will give protection in 25 Member States of the European union. (More information on the unitary effect here)
The rest of the explanatory note is divided between the UPC and UP, and deals with important questions such as the geographical extension, the general competence of the UPC and the transitional period. The UPC Blog by Lavoix raised in previous posts the problems of legal uncertainty attached to these three topics, we will thus look here at the response of the Select and preparatory Committees. (See Discussion posts on “Opt-out and legal certainty” “The impact of Article 83 UPCA on the applicable law” and “UPC and Infringement actions”)
The Geographical extension of the Unitary Patent:
The unitary effect of a European patent will cover the territories of the contracting member states that have ratified the UPC Agreement at the date of the registration of the unitary effect of the individual patent. The explanatory note however makes clear that the geographical perimeter of validity of the unitary effect will not extend following the progressive ratification of the UPC Agreement after the registration. Rather, it will stay the same until all the contracting member states ratify the UPC Agreement. It is only then that European patents registered thereafter will enjoy unitary effect in all participating member states. As for Spain, Italy and Croatia which are not participating in the UP and Poland which is participating but has not signed yet the UPC Agreement, it will be possible for the proprietor of a European patent with unitary effect to choose to validate the patent as a classical European patent. In addition, it will also be possible to validate the same patent as a European Patent in the ten contracting states of the European Patent Organisation that are not EU Member States. (For more information on the contracting member states and Italy and Spain’s positions).
The UPC general competence:
On the general competence of the UPC, the explanatory note makes clear that the UPC has exclusive competence “in respect of civil litigation on matters relating to classical European patents, European patents with unitary effect, supplementary protection certificates issued for a product covered by such a patent and European patent applications”. The UPC will not however have any competence for national patents or supplementary protection certificates granted for a national patent (see our post on supplementary protection patents).
The UPC’s rulings will have effect in the territory of the contracting member states that will have ratified the UPC Agreement. The exclusive competence of the UPC will also apply to the decisions of the European Patent Office in “carrying out the tasks of administering the Unitary patent set out in the Unitary patent regulations”.
The Transitional period: (For background information on the transitional period see here)
The UPC Agreement provides for European patents a period of seven years, renewable for another seven years, during which they will co-exist with UP’s. However, as it is made clear in the explanatory note, the transitional rules will not apply for European Patents with unitary effect. The transitional period will only apply to European patents or Supplementary Protection Certificates issued for products protected by European patents. For those European patents, the competent forum during the transitional period will be either the UPC or the existing national courts. So unless an action has already been brought before the UPC, actions for infringement or for revocation concerning European patents or for a Supplementary Protection Certificate issued for a product protected by a European patent may thus still be brought before national courts.
The Opt-out is, too, detailed and explained. Hence, “during the transitional period, a proprietor –or an applicant for- a European patent granted or applied for prior to the end of the transitional period or a SPC issued for a product protected by such a patent will also have the possibility to opt out the patent/application/SPC, from the jurisdiction of the UPC unless an action has already been brought before the UPC. To this end they shall notify their opt-out to the Registry. The opt-out shall take effect upon its entry into register. It will be possible to withdraw such an opt-out at any time. There will be no possibility to opt-out European patents with unitary effect.” In respect of the opt-out the Select and Preparatory Committees list three benefits of the UPC justifying not opting-out: “a unified jurisprudence resulting in increased predictability and the avoidance of panel litigation; judgments (injunctions, damages) with effect in 25 Member states of the EU; the expectation of speedier procedures than in many of the individual Member States”.
It is important to observe however that this explanatory note does not answer central questions such as the possible dual competence between the UPC and national jurisdiction under articles 32 (1) and 83 (1) of the UPC Agreement, the types of actions that would stop a patent proprietor to opt-out or the risk of lis pendens. The UPC Blog will deal with each of these issues in posts to come.
You can of course look at the UPCA here and the draft rules of procedures here.