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European UPC Almost Ready to Launch as Austrian Parliament Approves Ratification

Austria became the 13th country to join the protocol on a European Unified Patent Court (UPC) on provisional application (PPA) when the second chamber of the Austrian parliament (Bundesrat) approved the PPA unanimously on December 2, 2021. The Austrian government is expected to formally deposit its ratification shortly.

As expected, Austria followed Slovenia as the last of the 13 EU Member States that were required to ratify in order for the PPA to take effect. This group mandatorily included Germany, Italy and France (i.e., the three Member States in which the most European patents were in effect in 2012).

With the upcoming Austrian ratification, the UPC Preparatory Committee (Committee) will be able to formally start its work. Although there is no timeline set for the initial provisional application stage, the Committee expects that stage to take approximately six to 10 months. As stated in a note published by the Presidency of the Council of the European Union on September 24, 2021, this stage includes the adoption of the secondary legislation of the UPC, including procedures, establishment of a budget, recruitment of judges and administrative staff, election of a president, final configuration and testing of the file management system and ensuring that all IT infrastructure is properly set up and secured. In addition, a working agreement with the European Patent Office (EPO) on patent application and validation remains to be completed. Many observers regard the timeline to complete preparations as challenging, noting that several of these steps will likely require significant discussion.

As noted in the Presidency of the Council’s statement, the UPC will be in force when these preparations are completed, which could be as early as the second half of 2022. The exact start date of the UPC and the Unitary Patent System depends on how long the initial provisional application stage takes. It also depends on when Germany formally deposits its UPC Agreement ratification, which has been withheld so far in order to give the committee time to complete its work. Once the UPC member states agree that the initial provisional application stage is almost complete (likely during the next two to six months), Germany will deposit its UPC Agreement ratification, which will trigger another four-month period before the UPC may officially take its first cases. The UPC will finally open its doors four months after that last instrument deposit. At that point, European patents with unitary effect could be available at the EPO.

Practice Note: Entities doing business in the European Union should check whether their intellectual property strategy is fit for the UPC entering into force and European patents with unitary effect becoming available.




Only One More Ratification Needed: European UPC Might Be Ready to Launch

The German parliament recently passed the Approval Act (the Act) regarding the planned European Unified Patent Court (UPC) and the protocol on a UPC on provisional application (PPA). The Act was passed after Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court rejected applications for a preliminary injunction directed against the Act. The instrument of Germany’s ratification of the PPA (not of the UPC Agreement (UPCA)) has been deposited with the European Council. The UPC Preparatory Committee published a report calling Germany’s ratification “a decisive step on the establishment of the Unified Patent Court after the work has been on hold for several years during the examination of the Agreement by the German Federal Constitutional Court.”

The PPA will only come into effect after at least 13 EU Member States (which must include Germany, Italy and France, i.e., the three Member States in which the most European Patents were in effect in 2012) ratify the PPA and deposit their respective instrument with the European Council. The PPA must also ratify the UPCA (or at least have parliament’s approval to do so) and deposit this second instrument with the European Council. In this complex scheme, the German ratification was previously the main legal hurdle.

Now, after publication of Slovenia’s Approval Act in its National Law Gazette and the expected deposit of its PPA and UPCA instruments, only one more national ratification and instrument deposit is needed to reach the required 13 ratifications. According to a note published by the Presidency of the Council of the European Union on September 24, 2021, Austria is likely to move next, whereupon the project will reach the minimum number of ratifying Member States. The Austrian Government submitted a draft for an approval act to its parliament in July 2021 and expects approval.

Upon the complete ratification of the UPCA and PPA, the UPC will form on a provisional basis and commence its existence as a legal entity. The UPC Preparatory Committee (Committee) can then formally start its work. Although there is no timeline set for the initial provisional application stage, the Committee expects that stage to continue for approximately six to 10 months following ratification. As stated in the note by the Presidency of the Council, this stage includes the adoption of the secondary legislation of the UPC, including procedures, establishment of a budget, recruitment of judges and administrative stuff, election of a president, the final configuration and testing of the file management system and ensuring that all IT infrastructure is properly set up and secured. In addition, a working agreement with the European Patent Office (EPO) on patent application and patent validation remains to be completed. Many observers regard the timeline to complete preparations as challenging, noting that several of the above points will likely require significant discussion. With these issues in mind, the Competitive Council (Council) met on September 29, 2021, to discuss further actions regarding the preparations and to invite ministers to inform the Council of recent or upcoming developments in [...]

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