Call for Unified Patent Court referendum this November

Call for Unified Patent Court referendum this November

A referendum to allow Ireland to participate in the Unified Patent Court (UPC) should take place this November alongside the planned referendum on gender equality, the government has been told.

The Unified Patent Court Agreement, establishing a common patent court for EU member states, is set to finally come into force in June 2023, a decade after it was first signed.

A four-month countdown was triggered after Germany ratified the agreement last month, satisfying a requirement for the three EU countries with the most patents to ratify the agreement.

From June, the court will determine patent disputes for the 17 member states which have ratified the agreement so far: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden and Slovenia.

The remaining member states that have signed up but have yet to ratify are Cyprus, Czechia, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Romania, and Slovakia.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last year said that the government would hold a referendum on the necessary constitutional changes to allow Ireland’s participation in the UPC in 2023 or 2024.

He said it “won’t be a stand-alone referendum” and the government would consider holding it concurrent with the local and European elections in 2024.

Business body Ibec and the Association of Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys (APTMA) have now called on the government to hold the referendum in November 2023, alongside the referendum on gender equality announced last week.

Tríona Walshe, chair of APTMA’s UPC committee, said: “We urge government to hold the necessary referendum this November to ensure that Irish businesses have the same strategic competitive advantage available under the new UPC system as those businesses in European countries which are already part of the new UPC system.

“We welcomed the support of joint Oireachtas committee on enterprise, trade and employment for ‘expediting the timing of the referendum on this important issue’, which would provide the necessary certainty and for preparatory plans to be put in place.

“Companies clearly recognise the urgency at stake. Four out of five companies responding to a joint Ibec-APTMA survey stated that the referendum must take place 2023.

“Successful ratification will allow Ireland to fully participate in the new pan-European patent system. A new local division of the court is to be established in Dublin, which will support the further expansion of the patent-intensive sectors across the country, creating jobs, benefiting SMEs, and boosting Ireland’s innovation performance.”

Aidan Sweeney, Ibec’s head of enterprise and regulatory affairs, added: “Last week’s announcement by Government to hold a referendum on gender equality in November 2023 opens the real possibility for the referendum on the Unified Patent Court to be run alongside it.

“May 2024 was the latest indicative date for the UPC referendum because at the time it was the only set polling date, and it wasn’t going to be run as a stand-alone issue. Now that another vote will be put to the people earlier, the referendum on the UPC must be included.

“Ireland stands to gain significantly through participating in this specialist pan-European court system. A conservative estimate of the value add to the Irish economy for our participation in the UPC could be worth as much as €1.663 billion per annum. However, much of the opportunity is dependent on Ireland’s participation in a timely fashion.

“Establishing a well-run and attractive local division that is ready to go shortly after the UPC starts operating will be key to competing for patent litigation to be heard before the Irish-based court.”

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