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In a couple of weeks, another attempt to find a seat for the proposed EU patent court will be made at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels. As readers of this blog know full well, significant concerns as to the substance of proposals have been expressed by many of Europe’s leading litigators, judges and patent owners; these have largely been ignored. That in itself bring the process into disrepute. But let’s put that to one side for a moment. The big deal among the negotiators is not that they may have a bad plan; instead it is who gets the court. Big money and no little amount of prestige are associated with the outcome.
Three cities have been vying to be the home of the court – Munich, Paris and London. It seems that The Hague may now have entered the race as a compromise candidate. As far as I can see there are merits in three of the four candidate cities. The odd one out is London. To me, London makes very little sense at all. Here’s why:
1. The UK has far fewer owners of European patents than either France or Germany; per head of population, it also has fewer than the Netherlands. Thus, British entities are less likely than their German or French counterparts to use the court, and less likely in percentage terms to use it than those from the Netherlands.
2. The UK is not in the euro zone. Assuming that the zone continues to exist, this means additional expense for any non-British entity using a court in London. This additional expense would not exist in Germany, France or the Netherlands.
3. London is very expensive in terms of office space, accommodation, travel and fees – more so than any of the other three cities.
4. London is easy to get to by aeroplane, but hard to get to by any other means. Getting from airports to the centre of town is expensive and time consuming. London is not an integrated part of the European rail or road system. The other cities are.
5. During the negotiation process, the UK government and representative IP organisations have shown little inclination to do any of the heavy lifting. Individual British practitioners and judges have got involved, but as a body the Brits have steered well clear. The British government and representative organisations only seem to have got involved now that money is at stake.
6. London’s case is based on the idea that it is a unique source of patent litigation expertise and knowledge. There is no doubting London is a major patent litigation centre, as well as being home to world class law and attorney patent practices. But that does not make it unique in Europe. There is plenty of high quality in Germany, France and the Netherlands too – as the IAM Patent 1000 makes clear.
IAM is a UK-based operation, I personally am a proud Brit; but if we are talking about what is best for EU-based patent owners, it is impossible for me to support London’s claims for the EU court. For me, Munich makes the most sense; but if there are concerns about the system becoming too German-influenced if it is housed there (these are bogus in my view – if member states do not want a bifurcated German system they can ensure one is not created), then either Paris or the Hague would be decent alternatives: they are easy to get to, they are in the euro zone, they are cheaper than London, they are closer to more European patent owners than London and they are patent centres.
The proposed EU patent already suffers from a credibility problem. That will only be exacerbated if a decision on where to house its court is made on any basis other than what works best for the highest number of EU-based patentees in terms of cost and convenience. London offers nothing that the other candidate cities do not offer, while its drawbacks are far greater than those presented by Munich, Paris or the Hague. The UK government should not have entered the race in the first place; it should withdraw now. But if it does not, other member states should not consider the UK capital. There are far better alternatives elsewhere.
IP politics, IP litigation, Patents
Thanks for your argumentation. I'd like to add the time zone difference.
Nevertheless your post gives the impression as if reason would be allowed to prevail in this decision.Oliver Michael, Gemalto NV on 18 Jun 2012 @ 14:25
I'd probably agree on the whole. Although, on point 4, it depends what you mean by an integrated part of the European rail system - I would argue that Eurostar links make London very easily accessible by train.Robin Walton, ClearViewIP Ltd on 20 Jun 2012 @ 15:22