Unified Patent Court referendum postponed

Unified Patent Court referendum postponed

A referendum on Ireland’s participation in the Unified Patent Court (UPC) will no longer take place in June, the government has said.

Ministers previously announced in January that a referendum paving the way for Ireland to ratify the UPC agreement would take place alongside the European and local elections on Friday 7 June.

Voters would have been asked to approve the insertion of a new subsection 11 in section 4 of Article 29 of the Constitution, allowing the transfer of jurisdiction in patent litigation from the Irish courts to an international court.

The decision to “defer the date” for the UPC referendum follows the government’s embarrassing defeat in the family and care referendums in March, which were both rejected by overwhelming majorities.

Enterprise, trade and employment minister Peter Burke said: “While the government continues to believe that joining the UPC is essential and that the referendum should be pursued, it is clear to me that more time is needed for public discourse and engagement on the matter to help inform the debate.

“The June elections will give rise to diverse issues and campaigns involving local and European candidates, which may crowd out a debate on the patent court. Feedback suggests that many people are unfamiliar with the patent court and there is not a significant level of awareness among the electorate ahead of the proposed referendum.”

The UPC became operational last summer and 17 EU member states are currently participating in it.

Two UK law firms with a focus on intellectual property law — Powell Gilbert and Bristows — opened new offices in Dublin in response to the opening of the UPC.

The UPC has jurisdiction over the new unitary patents as well as existing European patents and will allow companies to enforce their patent rights more effectively.

Mr Burke said: “As minister for enterprise, I remain committed to Ireland participating in the UPC and see many benefits for our economy: for the competitiveness of the small business sector; for Ireland’s overall national competitiveness and reputation; and for supporting the science and R&D agenda.

“We need to have a broader discussion around the importance of unitary patents, the jurisdictional matters relating to the court, and the economic benefits that joining the UPC would bring. However, I believe considered debate around these subjects would be in danger of being lost among the other issues that will dominate the campaigns over the coming seven weeks.

“I remain laser-focused on supporting our SMEs and the wider business sector during my tenure and I am currently working with officials and partners in government to see how best we can use all the levers available to us to target this support.”

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