Plea to keep patent base in Scotland

SCOTLAND’S economy will suffer if a bill passing through Westminster strips the Court of Session of its powers to rule in patent cases, according to a warning from advocates and solicitors.
James Wolffe, vice-dean of the Faculty of Advocates. Picture: Jane BarlowJames Wolffe, vice-dean of the Faculty of Advocates. Picture: Jane Barlow
James Wolffe, vice-dean of the Faculty of Advocates. Picture: Jane Barlow

The Faculty of Advocates has thrown its weight behind a Law Society of Scotland campaign to amend the Intellectual Property Bill, which is scheduled to receive its second reading in the House of Commons tomorrow.

The bill will pave the way for up to four divisions of the European Union’s new unified patent court (UPC) in each member state.

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The Law Society of Scotland has already written to every Scottish MP to press the case for the Court of Session to be designated as one of the UK’s local divisions, and has now been joined by the Faculty of Advocates.

James Wolffe, vice-dean of the faculty, said intellectual property law is one of the “underpinnings of a successful economy” and Scotland would suffer if a divisional court of the UPC was not set up north of the Border.

He added: “Failure to establish such a court in Scotland would disadvantage Scottish-based businesses, would lead to an erosion of expertise in Scotland, and would have an adverse impact on the Scottish economy.”

The Court of Session, Scotland’s supreme civil court, dates back to the 16th century and currently has jurisdiction in Scotland over cases involving existing patents.

However, Gill Grassie, a member of the Law Society’s intellectual property committee, said inventors and companies may have to travel to other parts of the UK, or even overseas, to protect their patents if the current bill does not secure a local division of the UPC.

Although the society supports the creation of the UPC, Grassie said: “The Court of Session has built up expertise and experience in dealing with patent-related disputes and it is in the interests of the Scottish patent-owning community that the local option continues to be available under the new system.

“Many businesses, including SMEs, rely upon patents to protect their valuable technology and innovation.

“If Scotland does not secure a local division of this new court, then Scottish-based businesses will likely be forced to litigate and defend themselves elsewhere in the UK, and possibly much further afield within Europe, with added costs, business burdens and uncertainty.”

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The shake-up in patent law is being driven by the establishment of the European Union’s UPC, which was due to be introduced next year but is now likely to be launched in early 2015. The court’s seat will be in Paris, while London and Munich will cover life sciences and mechanical engineering respectively.

Wolffe said the new scheme is intended to replace the current national and European patent systems, but Scottish firms could face “costs and uncertainties” of protecting their intellectual property outside their home jurisdiction if the Court of Session loses its powers.

He added: “They would no longer be able to bring such disputes before the Court of Session in Edinburgh. The absence of a local forum for resolving patent disputes would be liable to lead to a loss of expertise in Scotland.

“That would have a further adverse knock-on effect on businesses in Scotland which require patent advice.”