30th May 2023
Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail Neale Richmond TD is today representing Ireland at the Unified Patent Court inauguration, at the seat of the Court of Appeal and the Registry in Luxembourg. A number of European ministers, senior officials and Unitary Court representatives will be at the event.
The EU Unified Patent System, coming into force on June 1st , will enable uniform patent protection across all participating EU Member States by way of one single patent application. By paying for one patent rather than individual patents across Europe, the savings will be remarkable. To date, 17 Member States have ratified the Agreement.
The new system will also provide a centralised platform for legal cases before the Unified Patent Court. For a local division of the Unified Patent Court to be established in Ireland, the referendum must be held. Setting up a local court in Ireland will offer users an accessible and cost-effective option for broad patent protection and dispute settlement across Europe.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Minister Richmond said:
“This is an important milestone for the greater integration of the European Single Market. The Irish Government welcomes the new Unitary Patent System and remains committed to hold a referendum to enable Ireland to participate in the System and the Unified Patent Court. Irish participation is critical to ensure that we keep pace with other economies. Businesses in other participating Member States will have access to their own local Court, and we want to ensure that our companies have that same access here in Ireland. Having a local Court in Ireland will reduce costs and waiting times for Irish or Ireland-based businesses.”
The Unitary Patent System will offer Irish inventors, entrepreneurs, researchers, and businesses a new level of protection and significant cash savings. As the simplified and cheaper system of patent protection will make it easier, particularly for micro and small businesses, to export to a greater number of EU countries, it will help Irish businesses increase their European footprint.
Minister Richmond concluded:
“There are many benefits for Irish businesses and innovators with this new system. From lower costs and administrative burdens, the Unitary Patent will offer savings to Irish business and enhance Ireland’s attractiveness for multinationals. Hosting a local division of the Court will enhance Ireland's position as a high-tech economy and reinforce Ireland as an attractive place to do business. Ultimately, we want to ensure that Irish startups and SMEs have access to a patent system that will enable them to grow and prosper, while protecting their innovations.”
Notes for Editors
The EU Unitary Patent package consists of two elements:
- The Unitary Patent Protection by way of two EU Regulations adopted in 2012, and
- The Agreement on a Unified Patent Court of 19 February 2013 (UPCA) establishing the first European court to decide private party litigation with direct effect in the participating EU-Member States.
The Unified Patent Court is an international court established to deal with the infringement and validity of both Unitary Patents and European patents. Its rulings will apply in all member states that have signed and ratified the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court (UPCA). The international agreement for establishing a Unified Patent Court (UPC) was signed during the Irish presidency in February 2013 by the then Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton TD at a ceremony in Brussels. At that time, it was an important milestone in the continued integration of the single market and was a priority for the Irish Presidency. It was hailed as a historic achievement. While Ireland is a signatory to the international agreement, it has not yet ratified it.
17 Member States have ratified the Agreement. More countries are expected to join in the future. The remaining Member States that have signed up but have yet to ratify are Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Romania, and Slovakia.
Despite numerous setbacks since 2013, including constitutional challenges in Germany, and the UK withdrawing its ratification due to Brexit, the Unitary Patent package is now operational from 1st June 2023. The Unitary Patent system will mark the single most important reform in the history of the European patent system since its creation in 1973. It is the missing link in the integration of the European patent system and a particularly comprehensive reform in the European Single Market.
Last June 2022, the Government reaffirmed its commitment to participate in the Unitary Patent System and the Unified Patent Court and to hold a referendum to enable Ireland to do so.
Ireland is required to hold a referendum before ratifying the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court because of Article 34(1) of the Constitution, which states that justice shall be administrated in a court established by law, by judges appointed in the manner provided by the Constitution. The Agreement on a Unified Patent Court, with its commitment to an international court that will enforce patent rights, is not currently compatible with the Irish constitution. It is likely that any referendum proposal would insert a reference in Article 29 (International Agreements) similar to that allowing Ireland to participate in the International Criminal Court. A date for the Irish referendum has not yet been set.
The intellectual property system is an integral part of the national innovation ecosystem. At the moment in Ireland, individuals with an invention, researchers in academia, SMEs and other businesses can apply for an Irish national patent with the Irish Patent Office (IPOI) in Kilkenny which provides protection in Ireland. It is an office of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. However, there is no single European patent valid in all EU Member States. Instead, individual patents must be held in each country where the patent is to be used. This can be expensive and time consuming. Secondly, for the inventor, researcher, SME or larger company these patents must also be litigated separately in the national courts of each country and where there is a breach of IP in another country they have to enforce their rights in that country.
The new system will enable uniform patent protection across all participating EU Member States by way of one single patent application. So, companies and inventors will not have to pay for individual patents in each country anymore along with individual annual renewal fees, they will just pay for one Unitary Patent, with one annual renewal fee. Overall, direct costs for a Unitary Patent which at the moment will cover 17 Member States will be lower than for an average European patent validated in just four EU Member States. Further cost savings can be realized as patent holders will be able to save the attorney fees or costs of service providers related to renewal fee payments in the different Member States.
The new system will also provide a centralised platform for legal cases before the Unified Patent Court. The court structure will have local divisions, regional divisions, and a central division. This is why we need a referendum. A local division of the Unified Patent Court will be established in Ireland if the State ratifies by constitutional referendum the international agreement under which the Court is established. Setting up a local court in Ireland will offer users an accessible cost-effective and more efficient option for broad patent protection and dispute settlement across Europe. Currently, patent holders must take enforcement proceedings in each individual country where patents are challenged. Having a local court in Ireland will reduce legal costs (travel, legal fees, translation fees) and offer easy access for any Irish or Ireland based businesses. It will also reduce waiting times for cases to be heard.
It will end complex validation requirements and drastically limit expensive translation requirements in participating countries. Consequently, it is expected to stimulate research, development and investment in innovation, helping to boost growth in the EU.
Unitary patent protection will also protect inventions better than the current system. Due to the prohibitive costs involved in the national validation and maintenance of European patents, many inventors currently only patent their inventions in a handful of countries. This makes inventions less valuable as the lack of protection in other countries makes copying them easier.
The new Unitary Patent protection is in addition to the current options which are;
- Patent protection in one country only – the ability to take out a national patent in Ireland only and to litigate that in the Irish legal system if that is what the inventor, researcher or business requires.
- Applying for a bundle of national patents across Europe, by selecting individual specific countries, following which, each patent becomes subject to the national law of the designated country in the same way as a national patent.
The new Unitary system offers another option, allowing more choice and more cost-effective protections by enabling one application to be made for Unitary patent protection across 17 Member States.
Back to Department News