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Friday, January 22, 2016

Unified Patent Court and Unitary Patent: what UK and NL can learn from eachother

Two days ago, I have placed myself in the perspective of the Isle of Man, and 5 islands of the former Netherlands Antilles in order to discuss the different modes of implementation for the unitary patent and the unified patent court the Netherlands and the UK have chosen with regards to their "dependent territories". Todays post is an advice to both governments. Their legislative proposals both have merit to some extent and they could lear from each other. Combined with a good "Treaty-notifier" advice, in my opinion the system should be implemented like this:

Unified Patent Court: Netherlands should listen to the UK

The Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA) is silent on whether it can be extended to dependent territories. While regarding European patents without unitary effect its decisions have effect on the territories, it is not clear whether infringement actions on the territories would be covered. The preambule starting with characterisation of the signatories as "Member States of the European Union" could suggest that the territorial scope is that of the EU, and thus does not cover the territories. 

The UK bluntly states that it will extend the treaty to the Isle of Man, and thus the UPC will full apply. It seems a judgement call whether this is possible, in which the depositary (Council of the EU) has a final say, but if they do (and I think they will, in treaties, a lot of latitude is given with regard to extensions generally when the treaty is silent on it), then it is by far the easiest way to keep the European patent "uniform" within UK+Isle and NL+Curacao+CaribbeanNetherlands+SintMaarten. 

Unitary Patent: UK should listen to the Netherlands

The Unitary patent is governed by the Unitary Patent Regulation, an EU Regulation, which territorial scope is the territorial scope of the EU and excludes these territories. The UK may state that by ratifying the UPCA, the territorial extent of the Unitary Patent Regulation will extend to the territories, but that's would be the first time the territorial scope of a Regulation is extended in this way [the EU, NL, and UK could enter into a treaty of course that extends certain regulations to the territories, but that's a long term solution]. The Dutch made a more clear interpretation of the interaction of the Unitary Patent Regulation with the European Patent Convention: if the "national" European patent without unitary effect will be assumed never to have taken effect when the unitary effect is granted, that has no effect for the territories not covered by the unitary effect. In other words, the unitary effect does not have the effect that the national European patent disappears, but its territorial scope is reduced to the Isle of Man and remains in existence as national European patent under national law. In the UK this is the EP-unitary and the EP-UK coexist, where the latter is best identified as EP-UK-"EPCnonEU" ("European patent in effect as a national UK patent with a territorial scope of the territory under the EPC, but not the territory of the EU: EP valid in the Isle of Man only), to identify its -very- limited territorial scope as a residual national European patent. 

Law applicable to EP-UK-"EPCnonEU" and EP-NL-"EPCnonEU": a suggestion from me

National law still applies to the EP-UK-"EPCnonEU" (EP Isle of Man) and the corresponding residual Dutch national residual European patent (EP-NL_"EPCnonEU"). That means separate renewal fees etc and thus extra costs and handling. Luckily, if implemented as described, the UPC has jurisdiction. However -unlike the corresponding unitary patent- during the transition period the residual European patent may also be tried in national courts. 

In order not to make the treatment of residual European patents different from the unitary patent, I propose to include regulations in the national laws, in which the residual European patents as much as possible have the same effect as the unitary patent. That means they apply the unitary patent regulation as a matter of national law. The implementation should make sure that the residual European patents are really "glued to the unitary patent" by the following provisions regarding residual European patents:
-Exclusive competence for the Unified Patent Court (also during the transition phase)
-any change in the text of the unitary patent will have automatically the same effect for the residual European patents
-the law applicable to residual European patents is  that of unitary patents (as an object of property)
-residual European Patents can not be separately owned, morgaged etc. The ownership etc follows automatically that of the unitary patent
-a license of a unitary patent including the territory of the main office of UKIPO, automatically also is covering the Isle of Man
-a license of a unitary patent including the territory of the main office of the Dutch national patent office, automatically also is covering the Curacao, Sint Maarten and the Caribbean Netherlands. 


Let's see if this is implemented. We haven't seen the statutory instrument for implementation of the Isle, so it is still possible this was planned all along (although that is not what is suggested in earlier documents). Furthtermore, the final proposed legislation in the Netherlands is unknown and still unpublished. It furthermore can be amended by parliament. 

In other words, there  is still time to implement this and have the territories covered in a decent and consistent way. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Unified Patent Court and Unitary Patent in Isle of Man and other territories

Imagine, just try to imagine, you are a territory. Not just any territory... No, you have a close relationship with the European Union state responsible for your external affairs, but you are -regarding most issues- not part of the EU. Your EU member state is also a European Patent Convention contracting state and has extended application also to you: a European patent in force in "your" EU state, also applies in you. In fact, when the EPC thinks about the member state responsible for your external affairs, it deems that your territory is covered by it.


But, things are about to change for you, little territory! Several EPC contracting states have made an agreement giving "unitary effect" to European patents in their territory, thus ao solving the problem that different decisions may be made by judiciaries regarding the same patent. From an EPC point of view, you are fully included in that agreement and the unitary effect will also apply to you. Unfortunately however these EPC contracting states have shaped their agreement regarding unitary effect as European Union Regulation 1257/2012, in which they state in Article 1(2) it is also an Agreement in the context of EPC Article 142. Now, article 142 EPC agreements of your contracting state apply to you, but European Union regulations generally don't apply. 

Your contracting state has also signed the Unified Patent Court Agreement. It's clear that applies to you regarding litigation on non-unitary-effect European patents as is explicit from Article 34: 

"Decisions of the Court shall cover, in the case of a European patent [without unitary effect], the territory of those Contracting Member States for which the European patent has effect."
But for European patents with unitary effect that's not so clear because their jurisdiction is arranged in EU instruments. Whether the agreement as a whole applies to you is also unclear, as the agreement is silent with regards to it, but... it is concluded between the contracting parties "member states of the European Union", and you are not considered part of the territorial scope of EU instruments.

So what applies to you?

So, the big question remains: does the unified patent court agreement as a whole apply to you and does the unitary patent apply to you. And if not? what then? What happens if your EU member state's European patent gets unitary effect, and you are left as ..., well as what?

The answer is complicated, that's clear from the discussion above and it is a pity that the drafters of the unitary patent regulation and UPC agreement have not been more clear in their drafting. That means the answer is i) unclear and ii) varies by territory

If you are an EPC-covered territory connected to the Netherlands (Caribbean Netherlands, CuraƧao or Sint Maarten), your government considers, even after suggestions not to in a public consultation (see my blogposts herehere and here):

  • i) the unified patent agreement can not apply to you (and even uses an approval procedure for the agreement excluding you! despite Article 34 above)
  • ii) unitary patents don't apply to you. If a European patent gets unitary effect, a small mini non-European patent will remain (called by me EP-NL-carib), covering just you and your fellow territories. What it costs is unknown, but you'll have to pay renewal fees and fulfil translation requirements. 

However, we still don't really know, as the act has not been presented in its final form to parliament.

If you are an EPC-covered territory connected to France, then we still have no idea. The approval law is silent and no provisions were made. I guess, you'll just have to wait and see.

If you are an EPC-covered territory connected to the UK, then you must be... the Isle of Man. That means you have requested in 2013 already to be part of the unified patent court. And today, the UK government has given you most of the required clarity today

  • i) it will extend the Unified Patent Court Agreement to you (jay!)
  • ii) that means -according to the UK- that the unitary patent regulation will also apply to you. Unfortunately it is unclear why your government thinks this is possible. That's problematic: it is not the UK that determines the territorial scope of the Regulation but -at least in last instance- the CJEU that decides that. So I am not sure if you are fully satisfied by this solution. Of course the UK could unilaterally consider it applies unitary patent legislation to you (which could also be implemented as my favourite implementation strategy: after the unitary patent applies in the UK, a national European patent -EU(UK-Man) remains, just covering you, to which -as stated in national law- the unitary patent rules apply; which means in practise: you're covered by the unitary patent). But if that's the case and infringement takes place in your territory, will the Unified Patent Court take jurisdiction? 


The present situation for you as a territory is either uncertain (French territories), certain and as requested but with legal risks (UK-related) or undesirable and legally incorrect (Dutch territories). Maybe it's time to call your fellow territories and together demand the clarity and a clear route how to implement that!

My suggestions: after joining, ask your member states to

  1. change the UPC to explicitly allow extending the UPC agreement to non-EU territories, part of the EPC (and that is a change that doesn't require a diplomatic conference or ratification by all)
  2. ask your member state to conclude an international agreement between NL, UK, FR and the EU, extending the scope of the Unitary patent regulation to you, in a similar way that many EU regulations are applied to Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein (the famous "texts with EEA relevance"). 

Who knows, they well might listen!