On June 29, 2012, EU leaders reached agreement on the location of a new European patent court. The court will be split between three seats, with London, Paris and Munich each handling a distinct function.
Paris will be the main seat of the court and the location of the court's president. London will deal with specialized patent litigation in chemistry, pharmaceuticals and "human necessities" (a category that includes consumables, agriculture and clothing). Munich will handle mechanical engineering and court administration. Disputes involving tech-based patents will be dealt with in either London or Munich depending on the kind of technology involved: actions relating to the internet or software are likely to be heard in London, whilst actions involving engineering technology will be heard in Munich.
Since the different seats will be allocated separate roles, litigants generally will have no choice over where their proceedings are held. However, there will be certain exceptions. If a defendant is not EU-domiciled, parties may choose to bring the action before the central division in Paris, irrespective of the subject matter of the action. In addition, where a patent revocation action is already pending before the central division, the patent holder will be entitled to bring any infringement action in the same forum.
The decision to split the court between three locations resolves negotiations that have been at stalemate for around six months. Denmark has been a driving force behind the patent reforms, and the end of Denmark's EU presidency on June 30 was therefore seen as a key deadline for deciding on the court's location.
The "Single Patent"
The new patent court forms part of a package of reforms aimed at establishing a unified EU patent system and creating uniform patent protection across Europe. At present, the European Patent Office may grant a European patent, but this must be validated by the patent holder in every Member State where he/she requires protection. The resulting translation and administrative costs are frequently onerous. The proposed new patent regime is aimed at significantly reducing these costs.
The EU plans to proceed by way of an "enhanced co-operation" procedure, which allows a smaller number of Member States to take a policy forward without there being unanimous consent. At present, 25 out of 27 EU Member States are understood to be in favor of the patent reforms. Spain and Italy, however, have announced that they will not participate. Their objections include the fact that English, French and German, but not Spanish or Italian, will be the languages of the new patent system.
Next, the European Parliament will vote on the motion for a unified patent court and regulations on the common EU patent system.