Giving a keynote address at a conference on the unitary patent and Unified Patent Court (UPC) system held at the EPO in Munich yesterday, Dr Margot Fröhlinger (Principal Director for Unitary Patent, European and International Legal Affairs at the EPO) gave an update on the likely timings.
With the UK’s ratification progress back on track, the main issue was the recent legal challenge brought in the German Constitutional Court (the BVerfG). Whilst little is known about the nature of the complaint, Dr Fröhlinger made the point that such challenges are very common, but rarely successful. She expressed confidence that it was unlikely to cause any delay to the UPC start up beyond 2018. Most likely in her opinion was that Germany would be in a position to ratify before the UK had completed its own ratification process later in 2017. The challenge did, however, mean that Germany (unlike the UK) could not consent to the commencement of the Provisional Application Phase until after the BVerfG’s interim decision, and that this causes a difficulty in planning. This could mean that the Provisional Application Phase might need to be slightly longer than hoped for until recently. Earlier, Sir Robin Jacob had pointed out that the process of judicial interviewing, recruitment and training would now probably be the rate limiting step in the start of the UPC once the Provisional Phase had started.
Dr Fröhlinger did not specify precise dates, but consistent with the recent statements from the Preparatory Committee, her speech suggested that the most likely timetable (assuming the German challenge does indeed fail) is for the start of the Provisional Application Phase in late 2017, the start of the sunrise period for opting out in early 2018, and a start date for the UPC itself in early summer.