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Raising the curtain on the Unitary Patent system

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UPC Agreement signing
Photo by Johan Liénard

How will the Unitary Patent system simplify and improve the European patent system for the benefit of its users? This was the focal point of the high level-conference that took place in Brussels and was jointly organised by Belgium's Federal Public Service Economy, the European Patent Office (EPO) and the European Commission. Moderated by IP journalist James Nurton, the event was attended by more than 1 000 participants, of whom 250 joined in person at the Concert Noble while the others followed the conference remotely. A further 3000 viewers followed the conference via the social media channels of the EPO, the Belgian Ministry of the Economy and the European Commission.

In his opening speech, EPO President António Campinos emphasised the importance of the new system for fostering inventive activity in Europe. He described the Unitary Patent and Unified Patent Court (UPC) as "the most fundamental change in our patent system since the signing of the European Patent Convention in 1973." Highlighting the need for a "diverse, inclusive and innovation-led economy for preserving a sustainable future," Campinos emphasised the crucial role to be played by a robust, high-quality patent system.

Citing the benefits of the new system as increased cost-effectiveness, easier post-grant administration of patents and streamlined judicial enforcement through the UPC, Campinos predicted that, "big savings in cash and paperwork, and enhanced legal certainty" would lead to "higher quality in the patent system."

In her address, the German MEP Angelika Niebler considered the active role of the European Parliament: "We fought for so many years to introduce the Unitary Patent system in Europe." Referring to the UPC she said: "We needed both pillars - the patent and the court - to build a trustworthy environment for the new system [...] Making Europe more resilient with the Unitary Patent is really important for Europe to also be more competitive on the global stage."

Anna-Carin Svensson, Director-General for International Affairs at Sweden's Ministry of Justice, reinforced the sense of resilience embodied by the Unitary Patent system itself, which is expected to enter into operation under Sweden's Presidency of the Council of the European Union: "I am convinced that the worries we had to go through will make the Unitary Patent system even stronger", she said.  

A major milestone in European co-operation

Former European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation Philippe Busquin and Cecilia Wickström, who served as an MEP from 2009 to 2019, both paid tribute to the Unitary Patent system as a major milestone in European co-operation. EPO Chief Economist Yann Ménière provided an overview of the system's economic benefits, especially for smaller entities and start-ups.

Of special interest to the public, however, were the five moderated expert panels that explored the new system from the point of view of academia, business associations, innovative SMEs, the IP profession and the judiciary. The closing panel in particular generated a spate of questions from the floor for the speakers, who were appearing for the first time in public since their recent appointment to the UPC.

They included the President of the Court of First Instance of the UPC, Florence Butin, and of the Appeals Court, Klaus Grabinski, as well as three further UPC judges. The panel offered much-anticipated strategic insight into the structure and workings of the first ever court dedicated to the Europe-wide litigation of patents - an institution that many believe might also become the future global centre of gravity in the field.

This sentiment was echoed in the closing words of Winfried Tilmann, Professor Emeritus at Heidelberg University, who stated that Europe was "contributing to opening up to a world system: first by opening up the granting, and now the litigation of patents."

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