June referendum: What is the Unified Patent Court and why does it matter to me?

It was due to be held in June, but the failure to pass the family and care amendments have made this uncertain

If you have spotted recent reports of a new political “reluctance” to hold a little-known referendum in June due to fallout from the failed family and care referendums, you may be asking: “Sorry, what?”

What is this referendum about?

Ireland was one of 25 European Union member states to sign an agreement in 2013 providing for the establishment of a Unified Patent Court (UPC).

A referendum to ratify the UPC Agreement is required for Ireland to participate and transfer some judicial sovereignty in the area of patents to the new Court.

Although it is due to be held alongside the local and European elections in June, it is now uncertain whether it will go ahead as planned due to the failed family and care amendments.


What is the UPC Agreement work?

The Agreement on a Unified Patent Court (UPCA) has been in force in 17 member states since June 2023.

The Unified Patent Court (UPC) is designed to provide a one-stop shop for intellectual property including litigation concerning the infringement and validity of patents.

Decisions made at the international court will be binding in participating EU member states, meaning any rulings or patents issued will also automatically apply in other EU states where the agreement is in force.

The UPC comprises judges from all participating EU member states and forms part of a larger Unified Patent System, the goal of which is to simplify the patent process and protect intellectual property on a European scale.

It would also see a local division of the Unified Patent Court established in Ireland where Irish companies or inventors would be able to enforce their European property rights just once rather than filing in individual countries.

What impact will it have?

The UPC aims to simplify the current processes in place for patents by providing uniform protection and enforcement across participating countries on a one-stop-shop basis.

The unified approach would mean a significant reduction in legal costs for Irish companies or inventors

As it stands, an Irish patent is only valid in Ireland, whereas if there were an agreement in force, a patent would also be valid in the 17 other EU member states where the agreement is currently in practice including France, Germany and Italy.

The agreement would also allow legal proceedings in different countries to be filed at once, rather than taking individual cases in several countries where infringement of intellectual property might occur.

The unified approach would mean a significant reduction in legal costs for Irish companies or inventors.

Why is this important to me?

Unless you’re an inventor, it might solely mean another trip to the polls, but for some kinds of Irish businesses, it could mean the world.

A referendum on the agreement has been long called for in Ireland for the benefit of individual sectors of the economy .

For example, the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec) has argued that full Irish participation in the new system will boost the economy by helping the country to compete for new inward investment.

Following Brexit, the group argued that Ireland is uniquely positioned to establish itself on the international stage as a “patent enforcement hotspot”.

Ibec argues that an Irish Local Division, that is English-speaking and rooted in common law tradition, would be attractive to European patent litigation that might otherwise have occurred in the UK.

A conservative estimate of the value of participation in the patent court system could be as much as €1.663 billion annually, according to the group.