The government’s stance on the new initiative makes no senseby Ian Dunt / May 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
This is the business end of Brexit, when all the contradictory promises and impossible dreams come face-to-face with legal reality. Usually we only notice this when it’s about trade, but the same is happening all over society, from security to rules around food recipes. This is the tawdry story of what the government did—and didn’t do—with patents, and why it is now stuck with a series of mutually incompatible promises which are about to collide headlong into one another.
It starts with Theresa May saying one thing and then proceeding to do exactly the opposite. In October 2016, she told the Conservative Party conference that Britain would leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Then, the next month, the government confirmed that in fact it would do the opposite. The first statement was made in the full glare of media attention at a key event in the political calendar. The second was made away from journalists, in a quiet announcement on a departmental website noticed by just a handful of lawyers and nerds.
It stated that it would ratify an agreement for a unified European patent court. Most people have no idea what the existing system is for patents or why the planned update to it would interfere with the government’s Brexit agenda. But for those who do, the decision was baffling. The new patent system is deeply embedded in the European Union’s architecture and would make any signatory dependent on rulings by the court May had just rejected. It is designed by EU states for EU states to rule on patents in EU states according to EU law as decided by the ECJ.
When you peel back the patents situation it tells several key truths about Brexit and the government’s handling of it. It shows the benefits to countries—especially highly developed ones like the UK—when they standardise the way they do business. It shows how misjudged May’s promise to leave the ECJ was and why she has had to steadily walk it back since she made it. And it shows that British businesses which depend on legal certainty have been left adrift for months on end with no reassurance from ministers.
A patent gives an inventor exclusive rights over whatever it is he/she has made for a certain period of…