back to article Germany says nein to Euro Unified Patent Court, pulls plug and leaves it nearby if anyone wants to put it back in

Germany’s constitutional court has ruled that the nation's ratification of a long-planned Unified Patent Court (UPC), which would create a single legislature for the whole of Europe to decide on patents, was unconstitutional. Three years after receiving a complaint from a German patent lawyer over the plan, the court finally …

  1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

    Good idea, poor implementation?

    Ultimately, then, the future of the UPC is likely to come down to a simple question: do EU members want to pursue a single patent court because that is the logical path for the European dream? A single market, a single currency, a single patent court.

    It's been a long time since I filed any patents, but.. An EPO seems logical, even if poorly managed. One Union, one place to file a patent in one large market rather than 28.. I mean 27 seperate states. But now I have my fancy EU patent, and someone is infringing, it would seem convenient to have one place to sort that out rather than having to pick the right jurisdiction and argue it there. Then also convenient if there was one court procedure to understand instead of 27 possibilities.

    But then patent lawyers aren't cheap, and an EPC I guess would leave national ones facing fewer billable hours if everything was handled by an EPC.. Especially as that would probably favour the big law firms.

    1. Len Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Good idea, poor implementation?

      I too think it's a good idea. Similar to what European Trade Marks have done since the 1990's, a one stop shop to protect your trade mark in over two-dozen countries. A single place to file your patent that covers a lot of markets (for many companies even the only jurisdictions they'll ever need) sounds like a logical next step.

      Besides, it could sort out all the issues at the European Patent Office by making them a proper EU institution with proper checks and oversight etc.

      I don't see, however, why it could only be open for EU member states? Why could Norway or Switzerland (or the UK once it's come back to its senses) not be signatory to it if they asked nicely? Surely if a participating non-member state accepts that, upon joining, patent jurisdiction is pooled in the new court that should settle it? Is there a legal obstruction at EU level to allowing non-member states in?

      1. Andy J

        Re: Good idea, poor implementation?

        "Why could Norway or Switzerland (or the UK once it's come back to its senses) not be signatory to it if they asked nicely?"

        That is envisaged by the UP package, although the UK is unlikely to ask to join because it would mean being subject to the jurisdiction of the CJEU.

        1. Len Silver badge

          Re: Good idea, poor implementation?

          I expect that CJEU anxiety to be one of the next red lines that the UK will give up so I very much doubt that would be an obstacle in, let's say, five years from now. I expect the UK government to have bigger issues to deal with than patent law for the next couple of years anyway so joining a European Unitary Patent would be more of a matter of 'in due course'.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Good idea, poor implementation?

            A couple of points:

            - the EPC is not an EU instrument. It has nothing to do with the EU.

            - the jurisdiction of the CJEU is the cited reason why the UK pulled out of the UPC in the first place, so the red-line holds.

            - devising an UPC system that is essentially an international court, outside the EU, but available only to "contracting members states" (of the EU), and appeals directly to the CJEU is not required or even sensible. Unlike the EPC (which has no such constraints), it precludes the involvement of a multitude of states that might otherwise be able to harmonise patent law and case law, not least the rich set of states contracting to the EPC.

            A truly inclusive international agreement for harmonisation of patent law and interpretative and litigation case law is what is needed here. Not an exclusive court answerable to the CJEU that knows, frankly, nothing about patents, their validity or infringement anyway.

            1. Len Silver badge

              Re: Good idea, poor implementation?

              - the EPC is not an EU instrument. It has nothing to do with the EU.

              Sure, but why should EU membership of signatory countries be a requirement then? That's the bit I don't understand.

              - the jurisdiction of the CJEU is the cited reason why the UK pulled out of the UPC in the first place, so the red-line holds.

              I wouldn't read to much into what the current low-skilled clueless government says or does. They don't know what they're doing and their opinions will have very little bearing on what (and who) will ultimately decide the outcome.

              Settling the UK's outstanding financial commitments was a red line, until it wasn't. A border down the Irish Sea was a red line, until it wasn't. Enrolling in programmes that are regulated under EU law (and therefore mean CJEU jurisdiction), from science, health and education to security, law enforcement and energy will become a pressing decision for the UK in the next few years. Either under the current festival of incompetence or the next. By the time the UK has a chance to think about patents again (not in the next few years if you ask me (it will have already enrolled in EU programmes with CJEU jurisdiction so that won't be an obstacle for a European Unitary Patent.

              - devising an UPC system that is essentially an international court, outside the EU, but available only to "contracting members states" (of the EU), and appeals directly to the CJEU is not required or even sensible. Unlike the EPC (which has no such constraints), it precludes the involvement of a multitude of states that might otherwise be able to harmonise patent law and case law, not least the rich set of states contracting to the EPC.

              A truly inclusive international agreement for harmonisation of patent law and interpretative and litigation case law is what is needed here. Not an exclusive court answerable to the CJEU that knows, frankly, nothing about patents, their validity or infringement anyway.

              I don't think you and I are that far apart. I don't see why this system should be limited to EU countries. But, I do understand why it made sense to use an existing legal order like the European Union instead of having to reinvent the wheel and recreate an entire parallel structure.

              I'm not sure it matters whether the CJEU know much about patents, they needn't get involved in that anyway. If the system would work in any way like it works now, the CJEU does not get involved in the technicalities of a case that is put before them. Their role is solely to interpret EU law, elaborate on it in relation to the question the referring court has asked them, and then hand it back to the court that referred the case so that can hand down a final verdict.

              In this case I would image that a case about a patent for 'a better mousetrap' that would be referred to the CJEU by a European Patent Court wouldn't be about the workings of the mouse trap but about whether the process that was followed by the quarrelling parties has interpreted EU law or principles correctly.

              1. Andy J

                Re: Good idea, poor implementation?

                " - the EPC is not an EU instrument. It has nothing to do with the EU.

                Sure, but why should EU membership of signatory countries be a requirement then? That's the bit I don't understand."

                Len, Apologies if I have misunderstood you, but I think you are confusing the EPC with the UPC, or at least the UP (that is, the Unified Patent package).

                As Phil O'Sophical says, the EPC has nothing to do with the EU. It set up the European Patent Office (again not an EU body) to issue patents to which would be valid within any of 38 contracting States. The EPO has no enforcement jurisdiction. Once a valid patent has been awarded by the EPO, it is enforced via the national courts of the member states, applying their applicable national patent statutes and caselaw. The CJEU has no role in enfrorcing EPO patents.

                The Unified Patent system is an EU initiative which aims to set up supra-national courts to hear disputes about European patents, including patents issued by the EPO to EU member states. As mentioned, the EU aspires to widen the membership of the UP to include all EPC signatories in due course, but because the ultimate court of appeal within the UPC setup is the CJEU, I'm not sure how palatable that would be to the non-EU members of the EPC, such as Switzerland, and soon the UK.

                1. Len Silver badge
                  WTF?

                  Re: Good idea, poor implementation?

                  Thanks Andy J, I think I am indeed not fully understanding the whole situation and conflating two separate structures.

                  It's been a while since I had to deal with a patent attorney to try and get some of our work patented and that whole episode of Byzantine structures and Kafkaesque procedures made me vow never to get involved in anything like that ever again. It's probably why the thought of a Unitary Patent is appealing to me.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Good idea, poor implementation?

              I was mostly with you there, then you lost me. What would be a "truly inclusive agreement"? One where all countries in the world would come together? If you notice it's difficult already to get the EU countries to get in agreement, why should it be easier to do it under the UN? That's plain unrealistic.

              I'm not worried about the CJEU knowing nothing about patents. I'm sure they're smart, they can read, and learn.

              And once it's established and working, then I'm sure there'll be ways to expand it if so desired.

              Remember that even though its lofty political goals w\ere present from its inception, the EU started as a decidedly non-inclusive agreement on coal and steel.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Good idea, poor implementation?

                "What would be a "truly inclusive agreement"?"

                In Patent terms, inclusive agreements include the PCT, the Paris Convention, TRIPS and the EPC - none of which are EU agreements and all of which are used every single day. We have waited 55 years for a "community patent" and it hasn't materialised yet. Central litigation of patents need not be devised under the EU any more than treaty litigation is (ICJ) or Labour disputes are (ILO).

                The EPO is a supranational non-EU organisation implementing, among other things, the non-EU treaties of the Conseil de l'Europe (which is also nothing to do with the EU).

                Sure, it will take time, but to characterise the UPC as a relatively efficient route (55 years since the conception of the CPC by the EEC) then the definition of "realistic" is nuanced to say the least.

                So I maintain: industry might be happy with the status quo until International patent harmonisation has progressed to a state where an international patent court is realistic, inviting at least all members of the EPC, including those EU States that actively boycott the UPC even today (e.g. Spain).

      2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Good idea, poor implementation?

        Surely if a participating non-member state accepts that, upon joining, patent jurisdiction is pooled in the new court that should settle it? Is there a legal obstruction at EU level to allowing non-member states in?

        I guess that'd be UK & Germany. And perhaps some other countries, ie all global patent disputes should be settled in Texas. I'm guessing there's a combination of political and financial wrangling, ie who pays for the EPC, outside of fees charged for cases heard there. But from reading the article, whether EU members are happy with the idea of handing judicial sovereignty to the EPC, even though it's the logical venue to settle any EPO patent disputes.

        As a lay reader, seems like Germany's objection would be the validity of any judgement by the EPC against German entities. Same I guess with the UK, ie I have an EU patent, the EPC rules a UK company has infringed, but that ruling wouldn't be enforceable in the UK because we're not playing nicely with others at the moment. Or we're trying to keep them at a safe distance, for health reasons.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Good idea, poor implementation?

      An EPO seems logical, even if poorly managed. One Union, one place to file a patent in one large market rather than 28.. I mean 27 seperate states.

      The EPO already has 38 members, it isn't an EU body.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Continuing with the UPC would be burdensome

    Most patent applicants (except, for example, the Pharma industry) seek protection in only 3 or 4 of the European states via the European Patent Convention. Normally these include UK, France, Germany. That covers enough of Europe's industry and economy to provide valuable protection for patentees.

    With the UK out of the UPC, the whole project becomes a burden on industry. Any litigation before the UPC must also be paralleled before the UK courts. The UPC is drafted to include common-law concepts that reflect UK law, yet will now be applied by judges from Civil law countries. The quality of decision-making at the UPC will suffer from the lack of input and influence from the UK's world-class legal system including UK judges. Patentees and third-parties will suffer from potential divergence and inconsistency in decision-making between the UK and UPC courts. Questions of patent validity can diverge between UK and UPC court decisions, with uncertain consequences for the interpretation of the European Patent Convention.

    In sum, the UPC is better shelved and replaced with a truly inclusive international project open to all European Patent Convention contracting states, including those not in the EU (such as Switzerland, Norway and now the UK).

  4. keith_w Bronze badge

    I didn't understand why this is true:

    "Thanks to the UK’s barrister structure, where it is impossible for smaller legal firms to interact directly with the ultimate advocates for their case, patent cases in the UK are much more expensive."

    Why is it impossible for smaller legal firms to interact directly with the ultimate advocates?

    1. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    2. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      I've tweaked that - don't forget to email corrections@theregister.co.uk if you spot anything wrong.

      C.

  5. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Alert

    EU-only, mate

    How dare they say the UK should no longer have a say in the EU simply because we left !

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: EU-only, mate

      How dare they say the UK should no longer have a say in the EU

      No-one is saying that. The subject here is an EPC, not the EU.

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