This Kat received a welcome email in response to last week's report of the AIPPI event on the Unitary Patent and Unified Patent Court. The questions asked were of a general nature, and therefore your humble servant thought that it might be worth a quick blog post to expand on three issues raised in his presentation.
The issues are two misconceptions (mentioned on the first of this Kat's slides which you can access at the previous link - his slides are the last set of the three) and one point of uncertainty (mentioned on the fourth slide from the end "Double Protection?")
Misconception 1 - the unitary patent system will become mandatory
There is no provision in the current legislation to make the unitary patent mandatory. The existing "classical" European patent will continue to be available, and national patents will continue to be available. The Unified Patent Court however will eventually have exclusive jurisdiction over all European patents whether unitary or classical, after the end of the transitional period (initially 7 years, during which national courts will also have jurisdiction over classical European patents). This will initially be subject to the possibility of opt-out (which can be done in relation to any classical European patent or application during the transitional period), but the exclusive competence will be universal when the last of the opted-out patents has expired. [The previous sentence represents the majority view of Article 83(3) of the UPC Agreement]. The Unified Patent Court will never have jurisdiction over national patents.
Misconception 2 - The Unitary Patent acts as a designation of the European patent application
There was an earlier proposal for the unitary patent to feature as a designation of a European patent application, but this does not feature in the current legislation. Instead, the designations of the European patent for the countries which are members of the unitary patent system at grant (ie those which are participating in the enhanced cooperation of the Unitary Patent Regulation and which have ratified the UPC Agreement), are "traded in" for, or converted into, a unitary patent with the corresponding geographical coverage (within one month of grant - Recital 18 of the Regulation)
This is clear from Article 3(1) of the Regulation:
A European patent granted with the same set of claims in respect of all the participating Member States shall benefit from unitary effect in the participating Member States provided that its unitary effect has been registered in the Register for unitary patent protection.
in combination with Article 4(1):
A European patent with unitary effect shall take effect in the participating Member States on the date of publication by the EPO of the mention of the grant of the European patent in the European Patent Bulletin.[Merpel has had a further thought which she will now hurt her readers' heads. The system will come into force when 13 countries including UK, France and Germany ratify the UPC agreement. So initially the territorial scope of the unitary patent will likely be 13 countries. But, say, 5 years later, more countries will likely have ratified the UPC agreement. If a European patent designating all states is granted in the early days and goes unitary for the 13 available countries and is then validated in all the others, the UPC will for the first 7 years have exclusive jurisdiction over the unitary part and non-exclusive jurisdiction in respect of countries which ratify the UPC later. In respect of those countries, can the patent proprietor chose between national courts and the UPC? Can he restrict the territorial extent of a UPC action in order to also have a national action in a country outside the scope of his unitary patent but within the (non-exclusive) jurisdiction of the UPC? Answers in comments below please!]
Article 4(2) of the Regulation requires participating member states to take measures to remove the national effect of a designation of a European patent, when that designation has been replaced by a unitary patent:
The participating Member States shall take the necessary measures to ensure that, where the unitary effect of a European patent has been registered and extends to their territory, that European patent is deemed not to have taken effect as a national patent in their territory on the date of publication of the mention of the grant in the European Patent Bulletin.
This Kat previously raised the question of whether the UPC-related provisions in the Intellectual Property Bill gave the power to take the required measures according to Art 4(2). Justin Watts correctly pointed out (see second comment) that, as a piece of EU legislation, the Regulation requires no primary national legislation for its implementation: the requisite power is already contained in section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972. Therefore, the government can change the Patents Act by secondary legislation in order to remove the EP(UK) effect of a European patent for which unitary effect has been registered.
Now, Section 73(2) of the Patents Act provides that, if a UK patent and an EP(UK) with the same effective date are granted to the same person for the same invention, then the UK patent is revoked by the Comptroller. Other countries have similar prohibitions on double patenting as between a national patent and a European patent.
In last week's AIPPI presentation, this Kat queried whether implementation of Art 4(2) of the Regulation would necessarily involve an analogous prohibition of double protection as between a national patent and a unitary patent. He wondered whether national governments might be persuadable not to prohibit such double protection, as it might provide an attractive way to invite users into the system early on, because for important cases they could file a European patent that they intended to make unitary, and then precautionary national patent applications as insurance in important jurisdictions. This is still possible even with the prohibition on double patenting, of course, but things get tricky to try to avoid overlapping claim scope to forestall revocation of the UK national patent.
Actually it seems unlikely at least as far as the UK is concerned that double protection as between a national patent and a unitary patent will be permitted, but it still seems possible in theory to this Kat. We will have to wait until the secondary legislation to implement the UPC and the unitary patent is drafted to see whether, either intentionally or inadvertently, the prohibition on overlap between unitary patents and national patents is the same as, or different from, that currently relating to classical European patents.