The UK government has signed the Protocol on Privileges and Immunities of the Unified Patent Court (UPC), weeks after signalling its intent to ratify the UPC.  

On November 28, the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) released a statement from UK Minister of State for IP, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, who said that the UK will implement the unitary patent and UPC.

The announcement came despite the UK voting to leave the EU in June.

Neville-Rolfe warned that the decision to proceed with UPC ratification “should not be seen as pre-empting the UK’s objectives or position in the forthcoming negotiations with the EU”.

An IPO spokesperson confirmed: "The UK signed the protocol on privilege and immunities in Brussels on Wednesday, December 14. Preparations for laying legislation to give the UPC all the appropriate privileges and immunities on UK soil have recommenced. We hope to be in a position to provide an update on the legislative timetable soon."

According to law firm Taylor Wessing, the protocol provides EU privileges and immunities to the judges of the UPC in those countries hosting divisions of the court.

London is due to host the life sciences seat of the central division.

Additionally, the release said that “it is understood that the IPO is working to a timetable in which orders of ratification for the UPC Agreement and the protocol will be presented to parliament for approval in February/March, leading to ratification of both instruments shortly afterwards”.

Once the German ratification is deposited, if not before the UK, the provisional period of the UPC will begin, the law firm added.

Paul England, senior associate in the patents team at Taylor Wessing, said: “Parties can begin to opt-out European patents from the UPC system during this period.”

He added: “The UPC and the unitary patent will start receiving cases on the first day of the fourth month after the final ratification … This could be as early as autumn 2017, although it is unclear whether other processes, such as recruitment of judges and other staff, as well as preparation of court buildings and IT systems, will be ready by this time.

“Consequently, it is expected that the German ratification will be used to control the provisional period and go-live dates until the court is fully ready.”

Tim Powell, partner at Potter Clarkson, added: “Although this development does not amount to ratification  of the UPC Agreement, it is an important precursor. It appears therefore that the UK government is in the process of making good its promise to ratify the agreement at an early stage."

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