Europe's project for a unitary patent is facing new delays. Before the system can go live, the court system for dealing with disputes on validity and infringement needs to be ready to go. This is currently in the hands of a preparatory committee composed of experts from member countries.
France has just joined Austria on the (rather short) list of countries that have ratified the Unified Patent Court Agreement. This is the first of the three required countries that must ratify before the agreement can go ahead. The UK will soon be in a position to follow, as its Intellectual Property Bill is in its final stages. The third required country, Germany, has plans to bring forward legislation but not until later this year.
Meanwhile, the committee drafting the rules of operation for the planned new court have admitted that their task will take longer than anticipated. At its 18 March meeting it agreed to revise the ‘ambitious target date of early 2015' appearing in its earlier roadmap document to ‘the end of 2015 at the earliest’.
As we have previously reported (Innovator companies in a new plea to curb trolls at the UPC, The UPC - will it tempt patent trolls into Europe?), there have been widespread concerns about how the new patent system will operate. The rules have been amended in many areas, but pressure from industry to address bifurcation (the problem of separate courts dealing with patent validity and infringement) have not resulted in major changes. The amended rules would now require the panel to give brief reasons for its decision. This might facilitate a procedural appeal against any such decision, but is not the substantial change many had hoped for.
A further oral hearing is planned for later this year but no date has been fixed. The committee has not invited written comments on the rule changes.