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Government reaffirms commitment to participate in the Unitary Patent and Unified Patent Court

The Government today reaffirmed its commitment to participate in the European Unitary Patent system and Unified Patent Court (UPC) and to hold a referendum to enable Ireland to do so.

24 EU member states have currently signed up to the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court (UPCA), establishing a new Unitary Patent System and the Unified Patent Court (UPC). The UPC is an international court set up by the participating member states to deal with the infringement and validity of both Unitary Patents and European patents. Its rulings will apply in all member states that have ratified the UPCA.

National patents granted by national patent offices are not affected.

In the event of a legal dispute arising from patent infringement or invalidation, the UPC will enable patent proprietors to defend or challenge a patent via a single litigation process, instead of having to take multiple actions in individual member states.  This will save them money and time, provide easier, faster, and more efficient judicial procedures and enhance legal certainty through harmonised case law in the areas of patent infringements and validity.

Benefits of the Unitary Patent and Unified Patent Court include:

  • Reduced costs for patent proprietors, of particular relevance for small and medium sized businesses, as a Unitary Patent will offer substantial savings on renewal fees across the participating member states.
  • A simplified court system allowing for consistency of judicial approach in patent cases with effect in all member states participating in the UPC.
  • Less red tape with no need to deal with multiple national court systems to enforce patent rights in participating member states. The UPC will provide a significantly cheaper approach to litigating European IP disputes by providing a single litigation system to enforce those patents.
  • Greater choice for innovators, researchers, businesses, and SMEs. Once the Unitary Patent comes into effect, patent proprietors will be able to choose between the protection of a national patent, a traditional European Patent, or a Unitary Patent. 
  • Research and development activities may increase as business resources are not wasted on multiple national litigations and could therefore be redirected to R&D.
  • Access to a streamlined Europe-wide patent protection may act as an incentive for Irish businesses to export to a greater number of countries.
  • A Local Division hosted in Ireland would provide Irish businesses with the facility to litigate on Irish soil and create a wider pool of national skills and competences in Intellectual Property including, for example, legal services, and patent agencies.

 The Tánaiste said:

“A single Unitary Patent and Unified Patent Court is good for business and for SMEs. It will save money and time and give all parties more certainty. We will consider the other referenda we have coming up and see how best to fit this one in. It won’t be a standalone referendum, so it won’t be held this year anyway but could be next year or concurrent with the Local and European Elections in 2024. It’s important to prepare.  I’m conscious that it will need a good public information campaign to explain its significance and that takes time, resources and planning.”

16 of the 24 Member States that are signatories to the UPCA and that are engaged in the development of the Unitary Patent have so far ratified the Unified Patent Court Agreement and signed up to its provisional application. 

Ireland has committed to the establishment of a local division of the Court to operate the terms of the agreement subject to the successful passage of a Constitutional Referendum. The Tánaiste will return to Government to outline the resources required to establish the same.

To date, 16 Member States have ratified the UPCA. These are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, and Sweden.

The remaining member states that have signed up but have yet to ratify are Cyprus, Czechia, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Romania, and Slovakia. The start of the UPC’s operations will be triggered once Germany ratifies the Agreement.


Note to Editors:

The UPCA was signed in February 2013 by 25 EU member states, including Ireland, during the Irish presidency of the EU. In 2014 the Irish Government approved Ireland’s proposed participation in the Unitary Patent and UPC and the setting up in Ireland of a local division of the court, subject to the passage of a constitutional referendum. Despite some setbacks since 2014, including the UK withdrawing its ratification as a result of its departure from the European Union, the UPCA project has recently gathered momentum. The UPCA has now entered the period of provisional application with effect from 19 January 2022, allowing the final preparatory steps for the opening of the UPC to take place, such as the establishment of IT systems, the training of staff and the hiring of Judges.