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Irish UPC supporters target November referendum

Ha'penny Bridge in Dublin
Ha'penny Bridge in Dublin

Ireland must hold a referendum to ratify the Unified Patent Court Agreement, but the deputy prime minister has hinted that 2024 may be a possible date

Politicians, lawyers, and business officials have urged the Irish government to hold a referendum to ratify the Unified Patent Court Agreement no later than November this year, but the deputy prime minister has said a vote may not take place until 2024.

The Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) and the Association of Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys (APTMA) said today, March 14, that a vote on the Unified Patent Court (UPC) should take place alongside a gender equality referendum already scheduled for that month.

But Micheál Martin, the deputy prime minister, suggested in parliament last week that any UPC vote could be pushed back to next year.

The UPC is scheduled to open on June 1. However, Ireland won’t be able to establish a local division until the UPCA has been ratified.

A transfer of judicial powers to an international body such as the UPC requires a referendum under the Irish constitution.

It is not yet clear whether the government plans to hold a UPC vote on its own or alongside referendums on other issues.

Leo Varadkar, the prime minister, has previously said a UPCA referendum would not be held as a standalone vote.

Naoise Gaffney, chair of IBEC’s corporate IP group, told Managing IP the government should hold the vote later this year.

“Irish industry has consistently argued that while Ireland stands to gain significantly through participating in this specialist pan-European court system, it will only do so if it participates in a timely fashion.

“Time is of the essence. Pushing out Ireland’s ratification into 2024 would only benefit UPC locations elsewhere,” Gaffney said.

Several politicians have also urged swift ratification, including members of the two biggest parties in Ireland’s coalition government.

Jim O’Callaghan, a former barrister and member of parliament (TD) for the Fianna Fáil party, told Managing IP he would like to see the UPC vote held in November.

David Stanton, a TD for fellow coalition party Fine Gael, also suggested a November vote in a parliamentary question to Martin on Thursday, March 9.

In response, Martin declined to commit to a November date and suggested the vote could wait until 2024.

“I am always cautious about holding two or three referendums on the same day.

“We are holding referendums in November, but there is no reason that [we] could not hold a referendum on this matter in early 2024.”

He added: “We could just take it on, notwithstanding concerns about whether it would pass or whether people understand the complexities relating to the UPC,” Martin said.

Tríona Walshe, chair of APTMA’s UPC committee, said Irish businesses would be at a competitive disadvantage if Ireland did not become part of the UPC system this year.

Ireland plans to establish a local division of the court if the public votes to ratify the agreement.

The Irish government has stepped up its UPC preparations lately with the appointment of a civil servant to lead a dedicated unitary patent unit in the Department of Enterprise, Trade, and Employment.

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