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From EPC to UPC in 40 years

James Nurton

In 1973, a group of European countries signed the European Patent Convention. Forty years on, patent practice in Europe is about to be transformed again. Here’s how to keep up to date

European Patent Forum 2013Next month, Managing IP will be hosting a forum in Munich on the unitary patent and UPC. Speakers include lawyers and patent attorneys; in-house counsel from companies including Atos, Bayer, BT, Caterpillar, Metaswitch and Nokia; and judges such as Tilmann Buttner from the Regional Court of Dusseldorf.

The forum promises to deliver a mix of information and discussion, with sessions on issues such as bifurcation and the CJEU, and a roundtable panel featuring perspectives from different industries and countries. Places are filling up, but you can still register on our event page (the event is free for in-house counsel and R&D professionals).

Talking to IP lawyers in Europe and beyond over the past year, it’s clear that the launch of the unitary patent is the number one issue for patent-owning companies and IP-specialist firms. Though many aspects, including fees and the launch date, are still uncertain, and some practitioners (and the Spanish government) still have fundamental concerns about the feasibility of the plans, it is now widely accepted that the unitary patent is likely to go ahead – probably in 2015 or 2016.

What’s not clear is how patent practice will change. The unitary patent and UPC open up a wealth of opportunities for new filing strategies, litigation tactics and forum shopping. Patent applicants need to consider questions such as whether to file unitary patents and whether to opt in or out of the UPC, while manufacturers also need to prepare for potential litigation in new jurisdictions. Meanwhile, law and IP firms are looking at opening new offices (as Quinn Emanuel has done), hiring extra staff and relocating partners (see Rowan Freeland of Simmons & Simmons). We hope that the forum will help you think about your own strategies to deal with the changes.

Coincidentally, this autumn also marks the 40th anniversary of the EPC, the agreement that created the European patent: it was signed in Munich in 1973, entered into force on October 7 1977 and the first patents were filed on June 1 1978. The EPO (pictured below) will be marking the date with a series of activities culminating in an event in Munich on October 17.

EPO Isar buildingI’m pleased to say that Managing IP is working with the EPO to publish a special supplement which will be distributed in Munich and elsewhere. It will include analysis of the birth and development of the EPC, which now has nearly 40 member states. We’re particularly interested to speak to patent specialists who were practising in the 1970s and can recall the launch, as well as those politicians and civil servants who worked on the early plans. If you were involved at the time, do let us know.

I expect one conclusion we will draw is that in 1973 few people predicted the EPC would develop in the way that it has over the past 40 years. And that is probably something that will also be true of the unitary patent and UPC, when future practitioners reflect in 2053.


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