The establishment of a new patent court described as crucial to securing the future of the so-called “knowledge economy” will require a referendum to amend the Constitution, possibly by the end of this year or early in 2016.
Last November, the Government confirmed that a local division of the Unified Patent Court will be established in Ireland, which would allow businesses to resolve disputes around intellectual property rights IPR locally rather than in other EU member states.A single court case will therefore decide on the validity of a patent throughout up to 25 states, eliminating the need for country-by-country litigation.
The European Commission has proposed the establishment of a “seamless, integrated single market for intellectual property rights”, which will also include the establishment of a unitary patent for Europe.
Patent protection is essential in areas such as the development of drugs and medical equipment as well as tech devices such as smartphones and other consumer electronics. In the transport sector, the design of new fuel-efficient cars and trains relies on thousands of patents. A 2011 commission document described intellectual property rights as “key assets of the EU economy”. But it also said the current European system was “complex, fragmented and costly”, with different decisions in different member states creating “legal uncertainty”.
The creation of unitary patent protection had to be accompanied by “appropriate jurisdictional arrangements”, which would allow patents to be enforced or revoked throughout the territory of the participating states, the commission said.To that end, an Agreement on a Unified Patent Court was signed by 25 EU members on February 9th 2013, during Ireland’s presidency of the European Council. It will not come into effect until several conditions are met, including that it must be ratified by 13 member states.
Three of these must be France, Germany and the UK, the three member states where most patent litigation is ongoing. To date only Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Malta and Sweden have ratified the agreement. Spain, Croatia and Poland did not sign it. In Ireland’s case, ratification is subject to a referendum because it involves a limited transfer of jurisdiction from the Irish courts.