When this Kat is not Katting, he sometimes stalks other blogs. For these purposes, he sometimes assumes the persona of his personal blog, the IP Alchemist (which is where he blogs about random things from chemophobia and music, to posting holiday snaps so his mother can check what he has been up to.)
Anyway, during the week when his fellow Kats were covering breaking news from the Court of Justice, this Kat was lurking as the IPAlchemist in the comments section of the IPCopy blog, which has been posting excellent material about many of the issues currently concerning this moggy, including the patent attorney examination system, the Intellectual Property Bill, and the Unitary Patent and Unified Patent Court (UPC).
|So many questions...|
Article 2 of the UPC Agreement defines the patents that can exist under the UPC scheme as follows:
(e) ‘European patent’ means a patent granted under the provisions of the EPC, which does not benefit from unitary effect by virtue of Regulation (EU) No 1257/2012.It is thus envisaged by the legislative scheme that a European patent will either be a Unitary Patent OR a European Patent (that does not benefit from unitary effect – which I shall call “classical”).
(f) ‘European patent with unitary effect’ means a patent granted under the provisions of the EPC which benefits from unitary effect by virtue of Regulation (EU) No 1257/2012.
(g) ‘Patent’ means a European patent and/or a European patent with unitary effect.
However, it seems that actually there will be a substantial number of what I shall call “mixed patents”, that is, patents which are unitary for some countries (namely those which had ratified the UPC agreement at the time of the grant of the patent when unitary effect was requested), and classical for other countries.
There are three types of such “other countries”. The first, which need not concern us here, is states that have not signed the UPC agreement at all, such as Switzerland, Spain and Turkey. The classical European patent can subsist in those countries without difficulty, because there is no overlap with the UPC scheme.
The other two types do concern us. The second type, which currently looks as though it will be only Italy, is a country that does not participate in the Unitary Patent at all, but which does sign and ratify the UPC Agreement in order to be part of the Unified Patent Court system. (It is perfectly permissible to be part of the UPC Agreement but not the Unitary Patent; the converse is not however possible as it is mandatory to be part of the UPC scheme in order to use the Unitary patent system.) This is the source of the “Italian Job” problem discussed by the IPCopy here.
The third type, which I tried to explain in my comment on that post, is countries that ratified the UPC agreement AFTER grant of the European patent concerned, when unitary effect is registered. For such countries, Article 18(2) of the Unitary Patent Regulation provides:
By way of derogation from Articles 3(1), 3(2) and 4(1), a European patent for which unitary effect is registered in the Register for unitary patent protection shall have unitary effect only in those participating Member States in which the Unified Patent Court has exclusive jurisdiction with regard to European patents with unitary effect at the date of registration.So the European patent cannot be Unitary in respect of such countries, but the proprietor can validate nationally in the usual manner. Let us suppose that the proprietor actually registers Unitary effect in the available countries and validates nationally everywhere else.
But suppose now 5 years later it comes to litigate that patent. In the intervening period, some of the countries that had not ratified the UPC agreement at grant now HAVE ratified it, so the Unified Patents Court is competent with respect to those countries. Since the Unitary Patent system requires only 13 ratifications to come into force, far fewer than the number of signatory countries (24 if you don’t count Poland), it seems plausible that at least over the initial period there will be a real issue with the status of the patent in these late ratifying countries.
At the time of litigation, the patent has three portions:
1) The Unitary partAgain, the non-UPC part does not concern us here. The question that does concern this Kat is, to what extent can a case at the UPC be limited to the Unitary-only patent, preserving (during the transitional period) the competence of a national court for what I called “a UPC competent classical part” in 2) above? This matters in at least two situations:
2) The UPC competent classical part, which consists of national validations of the European patent over which the UPC now has jurisdiction because the countries concerned have subsequently ratified, plus Italy (the second and third types of country discussed above)
3) The non-UPC part (Spain, Turkey, Switzerland, etc.)
A) Can a proprietor restrict an infringement action at the UPC to the unitary part only, and launch national actions in other countries (eg in Italy) under Art 83(1) of the UPC (“During a transitional period of seven years after the date of entry into force of this Agreement, an action for infringement or for revocation of a European patent or an action for infringement or for declaration of invalidity of a supplementary protection certificate issued for a product protected by a European patent may still be brought before national courts or other competent national authorities.”)? Is the answer different depending on whether the national action is brought before, or after, the UPC action?
B) If the UPC decides to revoke such a patent, does the revocation have effect for the Unitary part only, or also for the UPC competent classical part? This is not acte claire because Article 34 of the UPC Agreement, which purportedly deals with this issue, refers to European patents, which are defined as those which do not benefit from Unitary effect:
Decisions of the Court shall cover, in the case of a European patent, the territory of those Contracting Member States for which the European patent has effect.There thus appears to be a legislative lacuna in relation to mixed European patents.
It is clear to this Kat that such a mixed patent cannot be opted out of the UPC, because opt-out is only available for European patents which do not benefit from Unitary effect. So the UPC will always have at least shared competence with national courts over the "UPC competent classical part".
A further legislative lacuna pointed out in the comments of the IPCopy post is what happens if a patent proprietor tries to request Unitary effect for a patent that is opted out already (a scenario that is perfectly possible because opt-out can be requested in respect of a pending application.) I put forward the view that the request for Unitary effect should be inadmissible, because an opted-out patent is not eligible subject matter for a request for Unitary effect. One can think of some fudges and get-arounds, but I still think this the most likely outcome. Feel free to disagree however, preferably with legal basis.
Finally, a kind commenter Antonio Pizzoli posted a link to this document, Draft Rules relating to Unitary Patent Protection, which is a draft of the rules relating to that portion of the Unitary patent system that is delegated to the European Patent Office. This is not new – it is dated August 2013 – but it does not seem to have been widely circulated and this Kat had not seen it before. Its key provisions are discussed by IPCopy here.
Several Kats, and not a few humans, are engaged in the task of trying to envisage how these areas of uncertainty will be resolved. This is a collaborative task, so your comments, thoughts and opinions are greatly welcomed.
In final Unitary patent related news, this Kat has heard that Malta ratified the UPC agreement on 21 January 2014 and that France has passed the law that will enable ratification. On the other hand, this Kat is hearing ever more distant estimates of when the UPC will become a reality - 2017 anyone? - does any reader have a substantiated estimate?