On 26 April 2018 the UK ratified the Unified Patent Court Agreement (UPCA). The UPCA is an international agreement to establish a new court system that will manage Unitary Patents and European Patents that have not been opted out of the new system.
Unitary Patents are a new patent form that will come into existence when the Unified Patent Court system is established. A Unitary Patent will cover all UPCA member states (i.e. all EU member states apart from Spain, Poland and Croatia), giving holders the ability to prosecute and enforce a single patent across most EU countries. Unified Patent Court decisions on Unitary Patents and European Patents within the system will also apply across all UPCA member states.
UK ratification brings the Unified Patent Court and the Unitary Patent one step closer to reality. Once up and running, London will host the chemical and life sciences branch of the Unified Patent Court Central Division.
However, the UPCA requires France, Germany and the UK to have ratified before it can come into force. France and now the UK have done so, but a constitutional challenge to the UPCA in Germany means that their ratification process has been delayed. It is likely that the constitutional challenge will be heard at some point this year, but as a result the start date of the Unified Patent Court / Unitary Patent system is still unknown.
In addition, although the UK has now followed through on its commitment to ratify the UPCA, it is unclear if it will be able to stay in the Unified Patent Court / Unitary Patent system after Brexit. Membership of both systems is currently limited to EU member states, so the UK would have to negotiate a new agreement to remain involved post-Brexit, and the government has yet to state whether they will attempt to do this. As such, the UK’s future involvement in the Unified Patent Court and Unitary Patent is fairly uncertain at the moment.
If you would like to discuss patent protection and the opportunities these new systems may present then please feel free to contact a member of the team.