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Ireland to Hold Referendum on Joining the Unitary Patent and UPC Systems

The Irish government has issued a press release regarding plans to hold a constitutional referendum in June 2024 to determine whether Ireland should ratify the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court (UPC). Such a constitutional referendum is necessary in Ireland because joining the unitary patent system would involve amending Article 29 of the Irish Constitution to add the UPC Agreement to the Constitution. The UPC Agreement provides for the existence of Unitary Patents, and for the jurisdiction of the UPC over patent matters, in participating states. The referendum will take place at the same time as European and local elections.

Should the Irish public vote in favour of participating in the UPC, the Irish government would then be able to ratify the UPC Agreement. As a result, a certain amount of judicial power in relation to patent matters would be transferred from the Irish courts to the UPC. However, according to reports, it is envisaged that a local division of the UPC would be set up in Dublin, comprising at least one legally qualified judge of Irish nationality. Involvement of Irish legally qualified individuals in the UPC could offer the possibility for traditions and case law from a common law system to influence the future development of UPC case law (all current UPC participating states operate a civil law system).

Ireland joining the UPC would take the number of EU countries participating in the system to 18, and could thus further increase attractiveness and cost benefits of Unitary Patents. Currently, protection in Ireland is only possible by separate national validation of a European patent in Ireland. Unitary Patents granted on or after the date that Ireland ratifies the UPC Agreement would provide for protection in Ireland, and European patents validated directly in Ireland would be susceptible to UPC central revocation actions (unless opted out from the UPC’s jurisdiction).

Further developments regarding the referendum and possible ratification of the UPC agreement by Ireland will be reported as more information becomes available.