London HQ Brexit Threatens European Patent Court

In Germany, politicians are worried that plans to create a unified European patent system and court – to be based in London – will be scotched by Britain’s exit from the European Union.
The European Patent Office in Munich.


Long in the planning, a new unified patent for all European Union countries may be derailed by Brexit and along with it, a European patent court, slated to be located in London.

“It’s totally open, what the British referendum means for the European patent court,” Elisabeth Winkelmeier, the legal spokesperson for the parliamentary grouping of the governing Christian Democratic party, told Handelsblatt. “If the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, it would call the agreement about the patent court in its current form, as well as the London location, into question.”

Plans are underway for a unified patent court to cover all 28 countries in the European Union to hear cases regarding the infringement or revocation of patents in the European member states.

This high profile project is now completely up in the air.

At present in Europe, patents throughout the region are governed by an agreement dating back to 1973, under which patents are granted by the European Patent Office. This however has to be validated in the separate countries, and any enforcement enacted as though the holder held patents in each different state.

This process of applying for and allocating patents and resolving any disputes was to be simplified with a unified patent and patent court, planned for 2017 and likely to cut bureaucracy and costs. A new E.U. patent was to come into being whereby the European Patent Office would award a single patent that would automatically be valid in all the countries in the bloc. One single court, the new Unified Patent Court, would determine cases or disputes.

But the U.K. vote to leave the European Union in a referendum on June 23 calls these plans into question. In Germany, there is growing concern across the political spectrum.

The association of German industry, BDI, warned that German companies, known for their strength in terms of patents, may be subject to a stalemate. "Ideally, Great Britain would ratify the agreement as quickly as possible," said Julia Hentsch, the association's legal expert, adding that this is what industry is waiting for.

Much is uncertain about next steps. Johannes Fecher, the legal spokesperson for the Social Democrats parliamentary group, said, “This high profile project is now completely up in the air.”

If legal cases arose, these would be resolved by the European Patent Office in Paris with courts in Munich and London.

Mr. Fechner however cautioned against giving up on the entire project. It is too important economically for German businesses and inventors, he said. “But there’ll definitely be a need for new negotiations," he told Handelsblatt. He added that he thought it was unlikely that a European patent court could now be based in London.

Renate Künast, a Green party member who chairs the parliamentary legal committee, underlined that the agreements so far foresee the U.K. being involved. She said that the referendum didn't mean that Germany, France and the other member states should not ratify the law. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens next and we won’t be able to say until the U.K. actually applies to leave the E.U. and negotiations take place.”


Handelsblatt's Heike Anger is a political correspondent based in Berlin. Allison Williams contributed to this article. To contact the author: [email protected]

This story was updated at 15:00 CET Thursday to correct an earlier version, which quoted Ms. Winkelmeier as saying the European Patent Office was being called into question. She was actually referring to the patent court.