UK could stay in Europe-wide patent regime after Brexit, EPO chief says

12 July 2016. By Lewis Crofts.

The UK could remain within a new single patent regime that introduces simpler, swifter EU-wide protection, even if the country were to leave the bloc, the president of the European Patent Office has said.

In 2012, European governments approved a system that would allow individuals and companies to obtain a single patent valid across much of the bloc, with a single court to oversee the process. Spain and Italy were the only EU countries to opt out of the system.

The Unitary Patent — along with its Unified Patent Court, or UPC — had been slow in coming and now awaits ratification by a key group of EU countries before the new system springs to life.

The UK is one of the countries which signed up to the system. But the future of the regime is in doubt following the UK vote to leave the EU.

France, Germany and the UK are the key three countries that must ratify the UPC Agreement before it can come into force. A further 10 member states must also ratify the agreement through their own parliaments.

While France has already ratified, the UK had planned to take that step in 2017. It is now unclear if and when such a decision could be taken, particularly now that the UK is preparing for EU exit negotiations, which could take two years.

“In the best-case scenario, the UK could go ahead as soon as possible with the ratification of the UPC Agreement,” Benoît Battistelli, president of the European Patent Office, said in a blog posting yesterday.

If it were to do so, the UK could obtain “continuous participation both in the Unified Patent Court and the Unitary Patent” during EU exit negotiations, Battistelli said. In these circumstances, EU member states might allow “the continued participation of the UK, even after the ‘Brexit’ takes effect.”

If the UK were to leave the patent regime, it would lose the right to house a branch of the court, which had been due to open its doors in London. What’s more, an additional EU state would be needed to ratify the agreement in the UK’s absence.

Battistelli said the regime could go ahead without the UK, as more countries sign on to the agreement.

“It would be regrettable to leave out a major patent country such as the UK, a country that can help to shape the future of the system in a business and user-friendly approach,” Battistelli said. “But it is entirely up to the UK authorities to determine whether they want to participate in the Unified Patent Court and in the Unitary Patent or not.”

Battistelli said that the regime, which was three decades in the making, had gained too much momentum to stop now.

	Eliot Gao