Will there be an impact on intellectual property (IP) law?
The result of the EU referendum will not adversely affect UK or EU intellectual property rights. All existing patents, trade mark registrations and design registrations are all still in force, and will remain so for some time.
In addition, UK based intellectual property attorneys will still be able to perform all the same registration and enforcement work for their UK and overseas clients for the foreseeable future.
Jerry Bridge-Butler, partner at Baron Warren Redfern said: “There will be no wholesale loss of important IP rights, and no sudden restriction in the work we can do for our clients. Therefore, it is very much a case of business as usual.”
“However, if the UK does eventually leave the EU, there could be some significant changes in the IP registration landscape. But it is important to appreciate that these will not occur for quite some time, and I am certain they will not lead to any loss of rights, or any loss in the ability to obtain rights, for any of our clients.”
“Our clients can also be sure that we will pay very close attention to further developments in this matter, and keep them right up to date.”
From a patent perspective the UK’s membership of the European patent system is entirely independent of membership of the EU, so whether the UK is in the EU or not does not matter and the result of Thursday’s vote is irrelevant.
Mr Bridge-Butler said: “The European Patent Office is an inter-governmental organisation set up by treaty – like NATO – and its members are from both EU and non-EU states. The system does not produce EU patents, rather it produces separate national rights, such as separate UK, French or German patents. Therefore UK patent attorneys can still prosecute European patent applications for all UK and overseas clients; current European patent applicants will not lose any rights and national patents already obtained via the European Patent Office are unaffected.”
The area which could see most change is EU trade marks and designs. The EU has its own intellectual property office, the EU IPO in Alicante in Spain, and it grants trade mark and design rights which cover the EU as a single territory. If the UK leaves the EU then existing rights of this kind will no longer cover the UK.
However, if this happens then it is certain that the UK IPO will introduce a procedure to convert existing EU rights into national UK ones. It would most likely involve a straightforward patent application, and probably a small fee.
Mr Bridge-Butler said: “As a committee Chairman at the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys I will be one of those closely involved in working with the UK IPO on plans for such a system, should it be needed. I would have my client’s interests most closely to heart, and do all I can to ensure the system is as beneficial as possible.”
If the UK does leave the EU, and does not remain a part of the EEA, then UK intellectual property attorneys may no longer be able to file EU trade mark and design applications for their clients. However, there are all kinds of ways around this. Firstly, any firm with an office in an EU member state would retain their filing rights, and if not, it would still be possible for a UK attorney to instruct an attorney in the EU to file an application for their client, in the same manner they instruct attorneys in other countries around the world.
Mr Bridge-Butler added: “It is also possible that the UK will negotiate with the EU to remain a part of the European Economic Area (EEA), and if occurs then all our ability to file EU trade mark and design applications will continue. It is also possible that the UK will negotiate some other special deal with the EU which may maintain our position.”
One thing which well may bite the dust though is the planned European Unitary Patent. This has been in the offing for several years, and was intended to be an EU patent one could obtain via the European patent office as an alternative to separate national patents. Mr Bridge-Butler said: “A great deal of work has gone into this project, and it was supposed to benefit EU businesses. However, without the UK’s participation the future of the project would be in serious doubt. The UK is one of the top three EU territories for patents, so without it an EU patent may no longer be economically attractive to applicants.”