EU patent court to establish branch in UK

London will host the pharmaceuticals division of a new European court designed to handle patent disputes, the heads of European Union states agreed on 29 June.

July 2, 2012

The Unified Patent Court will handle litigation concerning EU patents, a new scheme under which inventors will be able to file for protection in 25 of the EU’s states, reducing processing time and translation costs.

The court is intended to provide a single, specialised venue for hearing disputes that does away with the need for parallel litigation in national courts.

After months of wrangling that stalled the final stages of a 30-year negotiation process, European leaders agreed to establish the court’s central division in Paris but to site some of its specialised functions in Germany and in the UK.

The compromise means that Munich will host a cluster of the central division focusing on mechanical engineering, while London will host the division dealing with chemistry, including pharmaceuticals.

In May this year, European Scrutiny Committee of the House of Commons warned that under the proposals, small businesses might find it harder to enforce their patents.

It added that plans had been rushed and called for the government to adopt a “strong position” in negotiations.

In a statement on Friday, Prime Minister David Cameron insisted that he had secured the changes to the nature of the patent system that UK businesses were demanding.

Vince Cable, the business secretary, added that the changes would “safeguard against delays and uncertainty in settling patent disputes”, a key issue raised by concerned parties in the UK.

Commenting on the announcement, Stephen Whitehead, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, congratulated Mr Cameron on bringing part of the court to London.

“The pharmaceutical industry is strongly in favour of a high-quality system for settling [intellectual property] disputes and has been very engaged in discussing the proposals as they have developed. We look forward to our continued involvement in designing the system we need,” he said.

Matthew Fell, director for competitive markets at the business lobby group the CBI, added that securing a high-quality patent system was always the main priority for businesses, rather than squabbling over the location of the patent court.

“The move to split the European patent court between Paris, London and Munich seems a sensible compromise, and will draw on the UK’s expertise in life sciences,” he said.

Efforts to create a common patent applicable across all European countries have been made since the 1960s but have never been agreed by all parties.

This week the European Parliament is set to examine proposals on the EU patent put forward by the European Commission in April 2011. The Commission hopes to see the first EU patent granted in April 2014.

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