Irish voters face referendum on EU patent law

Plans to introduce a single unified system for patent recognition this year...

Irish voters face referendum on EU patent law

Labour Party Leader Pat Rabbitte prepares to cast his vote inside the polling station in Clondalkin in west Dublin. Picture by Johnny Green PA Archive/PA Images

Irish business owners who are keen to protect some unique aspects of the goods they sell across Europe will be eagerly heading for their local polling booth later this year, but whether the average Irish voter is similarly inspired to exercise their franchise remains to be seen – the EU plans to establish a unitary patent process, but it needs an Irish referendum for it to become a reality.

Currently, if you want to patent an intellectual or physical products or an invention across the trading bloc, you have to apply for patent protection in every single member state and then go to each member state's court if you believe the patent has been infringed. 

The EU is hoping to bring in the new system that will apply across all ratifying member states this year, as well as a Unified Patent Court where disputes can be settled on a Europe-wide basis. It will be the culmination of 40 years of negotiations if it is ratified by the required 13 European parliaments and comes to pass. 

In Ireland, however, a change to the constitution will be required, necessitating a referendum. Another potential stumbling block could be the fact that Britain was a principal driver of this development, meaning that Brexit could create uncertainty.

Savings of potentially €24,000 for SMEs

Joe Doyle of Enterprise Ireland told Breakfast Business that the changes would bring big benefits, particularly for smaller companies, in terms of time, convenience and cost:

"[Currently, companies] can file a patent with the European Patent Office. After a couple of years, the European Patent office will grant that patent, hopefully. And then at that point the company has the option to register that patent with the different member states where they intend to market their product...

"If you were to validate your patents in all member states, the costs can be upwards of €30,000.

"The whole purpose of the unitary patent is to give that company Europe-wide coverage for a cost in and around the region of €6,000. So the idea is to reduce costs dramatically."

Doyle noted that the establishment of a Unified Patent Court would be "the more complicated part of the reform".

Of the Brexit situation, he noted that there is "uncertainty" as one of the three central pillars of the court is set to be housed in London but sounded an optimistic note:

"At the end of last year, the UK government made it clear that they are going to go ahead with ratifying the agreement around the court so they are determined to go ahead and have that pillar of the court in the UK. So the plan is that it will be business as usual, but I think it is going to form part of the whole Brexit negotiations."

Existing European patents will come into the new system, unless owners decide to opt them out.