Compromise Reached on European Patent Court

Earlier this week, it seemed that, just like in previous attempts, the proposed European patent system would go down in flames, with London, Parish and Munich all insisting on serving as the location of the new European Patent Court.  Instead, further to my recent blog posting, a landmark agreement was just reached establishing a unitary European Patent Court system and opening the door for a single European patent covering 25 nations. 

The proposed court system will split the duties among courts located in the three cities.  The main court will be located in Paris, with branches in London and Munich.  The London and Munich courts will each deal with specific subject matter – life sciences and pharmaceuticals for London and mechanical engineering for Munich. 

Currently, the cost of a European patent can be almost 15 times more than its U.S. counterpart.  The unitary European patent would significantly reduce those costs by eliminating the current need to validate the granted patent with the 25 member countries.  Validation would still be required in holdout countries, such as Spain and Italy.  Additionally, proponents point to possible lower litigation costs with patent disputes being decided in a single European court whose judgment would stand in all member countries. 

However, this system is not without its shortcomings.  The 3-city compromise for the European Patent Court is described by Chris Mercer, President of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, as a “political solution with no practical benefit.”  Specifically, forum-shopping by patent plaintiffs could still occur. 

Additionally, the European Patent Court’s broad jurisdiction could prove detrimental to losing parties in a patent dispute.  Previously, invalidation of a patent in one European country did not affect corresponding patents in other countries.  Now, under the proposed unitary patent system, an unfavorable ruling by the court would invalidate that patent for all 25 member countries.  Quite a sobering thought for any patent holder. 

Although this compromise has been reached, it’s just the first step of many before the unitary European patent comes into effect.  Stay tuned for more developments.


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