Thursday, 7 September 2017

Commission Position Paper on Intellectual Property Rights including Geographical Indications

Jane Lambert

Even before the EU referendum, IP lawyers in the United Kingdom wrote articles and gave talks on what would happen to intellectual property rights if we voted to leave the EU. I penned my first thoughts in Were we to go - what would Brexit mean for IP? 26 Feb 2016 NIPC Law and returned to the subject immediately after the referendum in What Sort of IP Framework do we need after Brexit and what are we likely to get? 3 July 2016. I have written a lot of other articles on the subject since then many in the context of the unitary patent and the Unified Patent Court,  as have a lot of other people. However, until today we did not know much about the thinking of the Commission and the remaining 27 member states.

Now we have a position paper dated 6 Sept 2017 from the European Commission, Task Force for the Preparation and Conduct of the Negotiations with the United Kingdom under Article 50 TEU which has been transmitted to the remaining member states on Intellectual property rights (including geographical indications) for discussion today. It is not a particularly weighty document either in the word count or in its ideas. Above all, it does not address the issue upon which businesses upon both sides of the English channel (and indeed the rest of the world) want an answer namely, can a way be found to keep the United Kingdom in the Unified Patent Court and unitary patent system if we leave the European Union?

The document, which is 5 pages long including the cover page, begins with the following statement:
"The withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union will create uncertainty for UK and EU27 stakeholders alike in relation to the scope of protection in the United Kingdom of certain intellectual property rights; to the treatment of applications for certain rights and to the exhaustion of rights conferred by intellectual property rights. This uncertainty will significantly affect the conditions under which goods that are placed on the market in the Union before the withdrawal date could continue to circulate between the EU27 and the UK."
Well, they can say that again.  I don't think even the most extreme Eurosceptic would disagree with that.

They suggest that any withdrawal agreement that we make with the remaining member states should ensure that:
"(a) the protection enjoyed in the United Kingdom on the basis of Union law by both UK and EU 27 holders of intellectual property rights having unitary character within the Union before the withdrawal date is not undermined by the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union;
(b) procedure-related rights (e.g. right of priority) in relation to an application for an intellectual property right having unitary character within the Union still pending on the withdrawal date are not lost when applying for an equivalent intellectual property right in the United Kingdom;
(c) applications for supplementary protection certificates or for the extension of their duration in the United Kingdom on-going before the withdrawal date are completed in accordance with the conditions set out in Union law;
(d) databases protected in the EU27 and the UK before the withdrawal date continue to enjoy protection after that date and
(e) exhaustion before the withdrawal date within the Union of the rights conferred by intellectual property rights is not affected by the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union."
I think the EU negotiators will find themselves pressing on an open door for most if not all of that.

My heart leapt a little when I saw the paragraphs headed "Intellectual property rights having unitary character within the Union" and  "Applications for Intellectual property rights having unitary character within the Union" because the words "unitary patent" are a shorthand for the expression "European patent having unitary effect". It sank, however, when I read the text of those paragraphs because the Commission seeks only the transposition of rights granted under EU regulations into national law and that is going to happen automatically under the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

As the Intellectual Property Bar Associaton ("IPBA"), of which I am a member, said at paragraph 10 of Paper 16 of the Brexit Papers on Intellectual Property:
"Intellectual property services are currently a flourishing area in the UK and the UK has significant influence in this area. Rights are well protected but subject to sensible defences. The intellectual property bar is very active and the excellence of the courts is widely appreciated, making a significant positive contribution."
The IPBA suggested that the UK Government should do the following to ensure that that remains the case:
 Securing rights to provide professional services
1. Rights of representation/practice - The IPBA joins and endorses the recommendations and requests set out in the Bar Council Position on Access to the EU Legal Services Market Post-Brexit.
1.1.1 UK as forum of choice - HMG should explore ways to ensure that the UK retains its position as a forum of choice for intellectual property matters in Europe. This should include steps to ensure that the UK remains more efficient and quicker as a litigation forum than other EU countries and EU courts. It should also include attempts to ensure that the UK is able fully to participate in the UPC post-Brexit and that, if the UK is not able to do so, the UK is nonetheless well-placed to remain a first-choice forum for resolution of patent disputes in Europe.
1.1.2 Prioritisation - HMG should ensure that the area of specialist legal services, including rights of representation in intellectual property cases, is given no less priority than that given to any other area of services provision in Brexit negotiations in which rights of access to the EU may be important.
1.1.3 Avoidance of approaches to Brexit which would be most likely to damage this sector - The UK should avoid any general approach to Brexit which would make such arrangements harder to secure. 
2. Ensuring that post-Brexit there is equivalent protection for intellectual property in the UK as currently exists under harmonised EU law, that there is no gap in protection with regard to existing rights and that defences which currently exist to infringement of intellectual property rights continue to apply unless and until specifically altered.
2.1. Ensuring continuing influence on substantive and procedural EU law which may affect industry in the UK. 2.1.1. HMG should take steps to ensure that the UK perspective continues to be heard by EU legislative and judicial authorities, where decisions are made that may have an impact on UK law and practice.
2.1.2. This may involve ensuring that HMG makes timely responses to EU consultations on legislative change and that it intervenes (and ensures generous rights of intervention for others) in CJEU cases which may have a direct impact on UK undertakings and an indirect impact on UK law after Brexit."
The IPBA has said that we would be happy to assist HMG in formulating appropriate strategies to that end. The government would be wise to take up that offer. If there is one thing that barristers know a lot about, it is negotiation.

Should amplification or clarification of any part of this article be required, call me on +44 (0)20 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form.

Post Script

The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys are much more kind to the Commission's position paper than I have been (see CIPA welcomes EC Position on IP Rights - Post Brexit 7 Sep 2017). The Institute's President, Tony Rollins, says:
“The paper only deals with EU unitary rights, that is, trade marks, registered and unregistered designs, plant variety rights and protected geographical indications, and does not deal with patents.
“This is because the European patent system is not a European Union institution and so will be entirely unaffected by Brexit. For UK-based patent attorneys carrying out European patent work it will continue to be business as usual."
I do wish I could agree with him but I can't.  Regulations 1257/2012 and 1260/2012 are EU instruments, art 84 (1) of the UPC Agreement makes clear that it is open to signature only for EU member states and art 20 spells out:
"The Court shall apply Union law in its entirety and shall respect its primacy."
If it were otherwise, the optional Litigation Protocol to the European Patent Convention would have been up and running by now.  

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