Referendum on Ireland’s participation on Unified Patent Court due on same day as June elections

Court designed to provide one-stop-shop for litigation on patents whose decisions will be binding on participating EU member states

The Government has agreed to hold a referendum on Ireland’s participation in the Unified Patent Court, which has been awaited for a decade.

The vote will be held on the same day as the Local and European elections in June this year.

In 2013, Ireland signed an agreement providing for the establishment of the court between contracting states, but an amendment to Article 29 is needed as it entails a transfer of jurisdiction in patent litigation from the Irish courts to an international court.

The court is designed to provide a one-stop-shop for litigation on patents whose decisions will be binding on participating EU member states.


The move has been long called for by business groups and individual sectors of the economy, such as the pharmaceutical trade.

In a statement, employers’ group Ibec welcomed the announcement, saying ratification of Irish involvement in the agreement would “provide significant benefits to Irish businesses”.

Ibec head of enterprise and regulatory affairs Aidan Sweeney said Irish participation will “help grow our patent-intensive sectors, improve our innovation performance, help scale indigenous and founder-led companies and help us compete for new inward investment”.

He said a conservative estimate of the value of participation in the patent court system would be as much as €1.663 billion annually. “Ireland is uniquely positioned to establish itself on the international stage as a patent enforcement hotspot. Doing so could yield very substantial gains for the wider Irish economy, gains that would go far beyond an increase in legal services,” he said, adding there was a “clear business case” for participation.

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The Cabinet agreed to priority drafting for the Bill, which was brought to Government by Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney on Tuesday. In a statement, the Government said if the proposal passed, Ireland would set up a division of the court locally which would “bring many benefits for business”.

Fianna Fáil Senator Malcolm Byrne said a Yes vote was “critical” given the role of intellectual property (IP) in the economy.

“The importance of a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum should not be understated. Intellectual property plays a key role in our economy, not only for Irish inventors, content creators and business, but also for many multinationals who see Ireland as a perfect entry point to the EU,” he said.

“As it stands, an Irish patent is only valid in Ireland. With a ‘Yes’ vote, an Irish patent will be valid across the 17 of the 27 EU member states that have to date signed up. This makes Ireland much more accessible, as we will be able to offer a single, harmonised IP system which has less red tape, offers lower costs, with no need for companies, investors or content creators to deal with multiple national courts to enforce patent rights across Europe.”

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Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times