Referendum needed over patents


Ireland will be obliged to hold a referendum to ratify the new European-wide patent system which is expected to come into force next year.

The transfer of judicial powers to the new centralised court for patent litigation requires an amendment to the Constitution.

However, any decision by Ireland to ratify the agreement would take place after other countries, including the UK, France and Germany, ratify the agreement.

Yesterday EU ministers signed the unified patent court agreement, which sets out the framework for a new centralised court to deal with European patent law. It marks a key stage in the move towards an EU-wide system for patents, a proposal that has been discussed in various forms for close to 40 years.


While the establishment of the court is a key step in the journey towards a unitary patent system for Europe, the agreement still needs to be ratified by member states and extensive technical discussions need to take place.

Speaking after a meeting of the European Competitiveness council in Brussels chaired by Richard Bruton, the Minister for Enterprise said that yesterday’s developments marked a significant step in the process. “A lot of technical work will have to be done to maintain the momentum, though I think this is a very significant day that we have got the signatories, and it has practical implications for European business.”

According to Mr Bruton, the Europe-wide patent system would save Irish businesses in excess of €6 million, by providing businesses with a “one-stop shop” to register their patents. It is estimated that Irish businesses spend up to €6 million annually on patent translation costs.

Across Europe, it is estimated that the new patent system will save businesses between €150 and €290 million each year, he added.

“When the full patents package is implemented, it will mean that European enterprises will, on the basis of a single application, be able to obtain a patent that has effect in the majority of member states of the EU and have access to a common litigation system to process any actions for infringement or invalidation of that patent,” Mr Bruton said.

Minster for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock, who chaired Monday’s competitiveness council meeting, said the development was crucial for the continuing development of Ireland as a location for R D activities.

Currently, businesses and individuals who wish to protect their intellectual property across the EU have to apply for patents in each of the 27 EU member states separately, a procedure which can involve significant administrative and translation costs.

However, some commentators have argued that while the costs may go down for companies that want to register their patents in a large number of member states, it may in fact increase for companies who only want to register their patents in a small number of countries. The level of renewal fees has yet to be set.

A compromise deal between the European Commission and the European Parliament on the proposal was finally reached in December, paving the way for progress on the agreement.

While Spain and Italy chose not to sign up to the proposal, they are free to join the new system at any stage. Italy signed up to yesterday’s unified patent court agreement.