I propose to take Questions Nos. 270 and 295 together.
The international Agreement on a Unified Patent Court (UPC) was signed in February 2013 by twenty-five EU Member States. Under the Agreement, a number of options are open to Member States in terms of participation in the court, including conferring jurisdiction on the central division alone, setting up a local division of the Court or, participating in a regional division of the Court with one or more Member States.
My Department is currently examining the options for Ireland’s participation in the Unified Patent Court (UPC), and the implications of each policy option, including cost considerations arising. Key to this process is engagement with key stakeholders who are being consulted in order to better inform the policy choices to maximise Ireland’s participation in the patent court. This includes the enterprise agencies under my Department’s own remit, representative business organisations and interest groups, including those organisations representative of issues of interest to the legal community. This will ensure that the views of a very broad client base will inform Government’s consideration of this issue.
In addition, given that responsibility overall for the administration of the Courts in Ireland comes within the remit of the Minister for Justice and Equality, contact and active engagement between my Department and the Department of Justice and Equality and the Courts Service in relation to the policy options, including cost implications, for Irish participation in the patent court is ongoing.
The outcome of this process will ultimately inform a recommendation to Government in terms of the policy option to adopt in relation to the Court and I expect to be in a position to bring this issue to Government within the next few months. This process is running in parallel with intergovernmental level negotiations among the States that signed the Agreement in February 2013.
Under this intergovernmental framework, a number of working groups have been set up to establish the working methods and modalities of the Court including issues such as the legal Rules of Procedure of the Court, budget and financing of the Court, IT systems as well as the training and remuneration of Judges to be appointed to the Court. This involves a very significant agenda of work which will very likely extend into this year and possibly into the early part of 2015.
It is important to note that, when established, the Unified Patent Court will be an international court whose judgements will have application in the case of patent litigation on European patents brought before the Court. Thus, all instances of the Court i.e. the central Division, regional instances or local instances regardless of location, will be applying the provisions of the UPC Agreement, in a harmonised manner, in line with the Rules of Procedure to be adopted by the Court. This is quite at variance with the operation of Courts of law in Member States applying domestic law provisions within their own jurisdictional boundaries. I think it is useful to convey this important difference given the references in the questions to the possibility that a court situated in London would have jurisdiction over Ireland. The closest example of a cross-jurisdictional Court of this nature would be the Court of Justice of the EU.
As the international agreement on the Unified Patent Court entails a transfer of jurisdiction from the Irish courts to an international court, an amendment to the Constitution, requiring the carrying of a referendum, is necessary before Ireland can ratify the Agreement. The timing of this referendum will be a matter for Government to decide.