Seanad debates

Thursday, 21 March 2024

An Bille um an Aonú Leasú is Daichead ar an mBunreacht (An Comhaontú maidir le Cúirt Aontaithe um Paitinní), 2024: An Dara Céim - Forty-first Amendment of the Constitution (Agreement on a Unified Patent Court) Bill 2024: Second Stage


9:30 am

Photo of Sharon KeoganSharon Keogan (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the proposed forty-first amendment of the Constitution. I also welcome protective and cost-effective provision for industry and innovation to establish the UPC. Embracing the spirit of Article 46 of the Constitution, this amendment seeks to introduce an amendment to the Constitution, subject to the approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas, followed by a referendum to allow the people to have their say to introduce this patent court.

Traditional European patents under the European Patent Convention are often regarded as costly to acquire and uphold. Patent owners face challenges due to the substantial expenses incurred in safeguarding their patents against infringements and legal disputes. This is especially challenging for small and medium enterprises and sole traders.

It is worth noting that the Intellectual Property Office of Ireland is based in Kilkenny. If the amendment to the Constitution is passed, the establishment of the court and the related premises in Kilkenny should be strongly considered also. Opportunities to decentralise courts, in particular niche courts such as this, should be strongly considered. The establishment of the UPC is a strong step in advancing legal protections outside of this jurisdiction.

The Agreement on a Unified Patent Court was signed during the Irish Presidency of the EU in 2013. It paves the way for a specialised court designed to handle private party litigations across participating EU member states. This initiative forms part of the broader unitary patent system, offering uniform protection in multiple countries through a streamlined registration process resulting in substantial cost efficiencies and reduced administrative burdens. It is my hope that this amendment will succeed because it will result in Ireland becoming the 18th participating member facilitating patent protection under the unitary patent system.

By ratifying the agreement, Ireland would stand to benefit from hosting a local division of the UPC, ensuring accessible, cost-effective options for patent protection and dispute resolutions. The cost-saving and operational efficiencies under the new system are substantial. They promote innovation and business growth while fostering a level playing field for Irish enterprises seeking to compete in Europe.

The strategy implications of Ireland's participation in the UPC extend beyond economic advantages. It would underscore our commitment to fostering research, development and innovation, and it would bolster our reputation as a favourable destination for high-tech investment, as we align ourselves with key competitors in attracting foreign business. Our involvement in the court would reinforce Ireland's attractiveness as an IP-friendly hub conducive to growth and technological advancements.

Furthermore, the establishment of a local UPC would enhance support for researchers within our higher education sector. This would reaffirm our dedication to nurturing a conducive environment for scientific advancement and technology breakthroughs. By aligning with the pervading patent protection mechanisms, Ireland could position itself as a preferred destination for IP innovation and research initiatives.

While sovereignty concerns may arise in discussions around the UPC, it is essential to emphasise that ratifying this agreement does not compromise Ireland's autonomy, rather it fortifies our leader framework for patent protection and promotes a favourable ecosystem for innovation and entrepreneurship. By seamlessly integrating the unified patent system with existing patent schemes, companies can tailor their IP strategies to suit their unique needs, fostering a dynamic landscape for intellectual property management.

The delayed implementation of the UPC witnessed various hurdles, including international challenges in Germany and the UK's withdrawal of ratification post Brexit. With the recent ratification by Germany in early 2023, the UPC came into force on 1 June 2023. It is now operational and poised to deliver effective patent protection to innovators across the EU.

I urge the Government and those who will spearhead the "Yes" campaign on this matter to be cautious and not to assume that Ireland will have a successful referendum. This is a potential challenge that the Government will face, in particular as it aims to run this referendum on the same day as the European and local elections. Rather than articulating the tangible benefits of a regrettably unpopular Government that does not stand to do well in these elections, a careful, considered campaign must be put in place to ensure that there is resounding support, information, and understanding provided to the electorate.

I will lend my support to seeking the success of this referendum. I hope the Government rises to the challenge of success. I also hope there is strong support for this transformative initiative that holds the potential to shape our innovation landscape for years to come. It would be a real shame if a protest vote against the Government were to result in a repeat of the rejection rates of the referendums on family and care. A clear, concise and lengthy campaign would contrast strongly with the referendums we held recently. I suggest this approach in the hope of this amendment succeeding.

I applaud the work of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I look forward to an informative and engaging campaign.


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