Many will be forgiven for wondering when a firm date for the commencement of the new Unitary Patent and Unified Patent Court (UPC) regime will be announced. Following the hiatus caused by the UK Brexit referendum result, indications had been that plans were back on track for a start date of December 2017. However, in March, a new hurdle arose in the form of a challenge in the German Constitutional Court, upon which little information appears to be available but which has caused a pause in the plans for German ratification.
The Chairman of the UPC Preparatory Committee has issued a statement noting the difficulties in ascertaining the status and content of the challenge in Germany. It outlines that it is not possible to give a definitive start date for the period of provisional application which will allow the start of operation of the UPC's formal governing bodies and the conduct of judicial interviews and appointments. However, it is anticipated that the challenge in Germany will not cause a significant delay and that the Provisional Application Period may still commence later in Autumn 2017, with the Sunrise period for opting existing European Patents out of the UPC commencing in early 2018, and the UPC finally opening its doors for business later in 2018.
The UK has subsequently deposited the document required to apply the Protocol on Provisional Application, and is expected to complete the ratification process later this year. Further, developments in relation to the Case Management System continue apace, with the latest version to be made available in August 2017, reported to be tailored for the preparation of the Sunrise period including interrelated opt-out functionalities. All eyes will therefore be on events in Germany over the coming months. A further development to attract interest has been the reported comments of the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, that the EU is ' looking into' the UK's hosting of the life sciences section of the Unified Patent Court in London post-Brexit.
Of course, whilst it is possible that there will be further slippage in the current predicted timescales, those businesses looking to opt their European patents out during the Sunrise period should continue to finalise their strategies and procedures, so they are ready to proceed once the start of the Sunrise period is officially announced.