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Unitary Patent Presentation

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  • page d'en-tête

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Patents ? Innovation

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Dans le domaine du logiciel, les brevets sont une arme de guerre économique, un frein à l'innovation, une menace sur chaque vendeur/développeur/utilisateur

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Let us start by deconstructing a common belief about patents. Patents do not always equal to innovation. In the field of software, we have experienced that patents are actually weapons of economic war, a hindering for innovation, and a potential threat on every seller, developper and user of software.

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A shared concern

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Citation(s) Kent Walker, Google’s Senior Vice President & General Counsel

  • “A patent isn’t innovation. It’s the right to block someone else from innovating”
  • “Patents are government-granted monopolies. We have them to reward innovation, but that’s not happening here.”
  • “It’s one thing to claim to have patents, it’s another for them to actually be valid patents.”
  • “An average patent examiner gets 15 to 20 hours per patent to see if it’s valid. It can take years to go back and correct mistakes. It has become a kind of lottery.”
  • “Patents are not encouraging innovation”

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We are not the only ones to say this. Actually, the vast majority of software professionals are opposed to software patents.

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U.S. Experience

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In the United States, the observations of the effects of software patents in the last twenty years show how detrimental they are to the economy. Most software firms still do not patent, most software patents are obtained by a few large firms, and the risk of litigation from software patents continues to increase dramatically.

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Be Careful With Patent Policy!

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L'exemple particulier des brevets logiciels signifie qu'il faut être prudent avec la politique des brevets.

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These particular concerns about software patents mean that, globally, patent policy has to be taken carefully. A bad patent policy could be disastrous for the innovative economy and for the fundamental rights and freedoms.

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European Patent Law

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Article 52 European Patent Convention (EPC)

“Patentable inventions

  • (1) European patents shall be granted for any inventions, in all fields of technology, provided that they are new, involve an inventive step and are susceptible of industrial application.
  • (2) The following in particular shall not be regarded as inventions within the meaning of paragraph 1:
  • * (a) discoveries, scientific theories and mathematical methods;
  • * (b) aesthetic creations;
  • * (c) schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games or doing business, and programs for computers;
  • * (d) presentations of information.
  • (3) Paragraph 2 shall exclude the patentability of the subject-matter or activities referred to therein only to the extent to which a European patent application or European patent relates to such subject?matter or activities as such.”

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Fortunately, in the European patent law, software patents are explicitly excluded from patentability. It is important to note that in Europe, patent law is governed by the European Patent Convention (EPC), a multilateral treaty that led to the creation of the European Patent Office. Thus, the EPC is not European Union law and the EPO is not a European Union's agency.

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A Sophistry to Nevertheless Grant Software Patents

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Contrairement à l'esprit et à la lettre du droit européen, l'OEB accorde des dizaines de milliers de brevets logiciels

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  • Logo OEB (juste bandes rouges) en image de fond : epo_red_stripes_bg.pngepo_red_stripes_bg.png
  • “In fact, patent applications for computer-based inventions have the highest growth rate among all patent categories presented to the European Patent Office (EPO) over the past few years.”
  • “A program for a computer is not patentable if it does not have the potential to cause a ‘further technical effect’ which must go beyond the inherent technical interactions between hardware and software. On the other hand, a CII (even in the form of a computer program) that can provide this further technical effect can be patentable, subject to the other patentability requirements, such as novelty and inventive step. In this case, it would be recognised as providing a technical solution to a technical problem.”

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Unfortunately, against the spirit and the letter of this law, the EPO has started in the 80's to grant patent on software, arguing that the law does only prevent patentability of software as such, but that some software have actually technical effects, and shouldn't be regarded as “software as such”, and are therefore patentable.

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A Resulting Minefield

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Exemples de brevets logiciels

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The result of this dubious practice is that we have now, in Europe, tens of thousands very strong monopoly rights. Not covering the source code of software – that is what copyright is for. But over the very functionalities of software, over algorithms — that is mathematics –, over data processing ideas.

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The Failure of the Software Patents Directive

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  • mise en échec d'une législation entérinant les pratiques de l'OEB

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But it could have been worse! In 2005, thanks to a massive grass-roots effort, the European Parliament has rejected a directive aiming to legalize to EPO's practice of granting software patents. Until this, even if EPO continues to grant software patents, court are still free to reject them as invalid.

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The Failure of the EPLA

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  • mise en échec de l'OEB comme autorité judiciaire

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The next attempt was to replace national patent courts with a unified central court, governed by the EPO. Fortunately, this attempt has also failed, mainly because it would have be contrary to the EU Treaties for Member States to build up such court, without the EU being part of such a plan.

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A Systemic Issue

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These failures have highlighted that the issue is actually systemic. The EPO is functioning inside some kind of bubble for the sole interest of a “patent microcosm”, including patent lawyers and patent departements of some — mainly non-EU – big firms. And as usual with bubbles, the EPO is geared toward an unlimited expansion of its bubble. The more patent it grants, the more wealthy is the EPO.

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A Call to Legislators

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  • Logo OEB (juste bandes rouges) en image de fond : epo_red_stripes_bg.pngepo_red_stripes_bg.png
  • Citation

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So there is a need to refocus the European patent system in the interest of the European economy and society as a whole. Actually, the highest internal quasi-judicial body of the EPO – the Enlarged Board of Appeal — has called for the only way to achieve this: Legislators should act.

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A Bundle of National Patents

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  • Brevet européen de l'OEB => faisceau de brevets nationaux (les conséquences du systèmes)
  • Duplication des taxes et traductions

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Indeed the EU is working for decades to reform the patent system. Currently once granted by the EPO, a European patent comes finally into existence as a bundle of national patents in each country designated by the patent applicant. And each of these national patents has to be translated and is subject to some fees to each and every national patent office.

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Enforcement Before National Jurisdictions

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  • Enforcement d'un brevet européen devant les multiples juridictions nationales (pourquoi une juridiction unifiée)
  • Divergences potentielles, forum shoping

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Moreover, to prevent allegedly infringement of a European patent, or conversly to invalidate such a patent, one has to file lawsuits before each and every national jurisdiction.

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The Unitary Patent and The Unified Patent Jurisdiction

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  • Brevet unitaire et juridiction unifiée (expliciter pourquoi l'un ne va pas sans l'autre).

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So the EU wants to set up a new patent title that would have unitary effect throughout the whole Union and that would be enforceable before a unified patent court.

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First Problem: Unanimity Required

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  • Coopération renforcée

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But Member States of the EU haven't managed to reach an agreement about the language that should be used for such a unitary patent, whereas this issue resuires unanimity. So it has been decide to use a procedure called “enhanced cooperation” where an EU regulation has to be voted by the European Parliament and by coutries of the Council which are participating to this enhanced cooperation. In the case of the unitary patent, all EU countries are participating but Spain and Italy.

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Second Problem: Compliance with EU Treaties

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  • Avis CJUE
  • “the envisaged agreement […] would deprive courts of Member States of their powers in relation to the interpretation and application of European Union law and the Court of its powers to reply, by preliminary ruling, to questions referred by those courts and, consequently, would alter the essential character of the powers which the Treaties confer on the institutions of the European Union and on the Member States and which are indispensable to the preservation of the very nature of European Union law.”

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Then the European Court of Justice smashed the project of a unified patent jurisdiction because it was outside of the judicial and legal framework of the EU, sending the European Commission back to the drawing board.

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Third Problem: Bad Example of Unified Patent Court

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  • Situation aux US
  • Explosion des litiges
  • Guerre ouverte dans le domaine des télécoms (mobiles)
  • Juridiction spécialisée centralisée => dérives (liée à une soif de pouvoir+volonté de tout contrôler du microcosme des brevets, qui ne fait pas confiance à un juge indépendant pour promouvoir ses intérêts)
  • Nécessité de contrôle par Cour suprême
  • Nécessité de clarification législative
  • (éventuellement découper ça sur plusieurs slides)

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Also, a unified and specialized patent jurisdiction suffers from the example of the United States, where the Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) has showned to behave in an excessively pro-patent direction, broadening the scope of patentable subject matter and endowing patentees with unwarranted power. This ever-growing desire of the CAFC to expand its powers has started to be criticized, not only by economic and legal scholars, but also by the US Supreme Court.

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Required Oversight by The European Court of Justice

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  • Impérativité d'un contrôle de la CJUE : respect des droits fondamentaux, contrôle par un juge judiciaire indépendant

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This implies that whatever patent jurisdiction is set up, its rulings shall be subject to an overview by an independent court, that is able to weight proportionally conflicts between patent law and other legal areas, such as competitive law or fundamental rights and freedom. Actually, since the opinion of the ECJ already mentioned above, there is no other choice.

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Required Independence of the EU Innovation Policy

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  • Impérativité d'indépendance de l'UE sur sa politique d'innovation => l'UE doit assumer sa compétence de légiférer sur le droit matériel des brevets

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The EU should also make sure that it has full competence to decide about what should be excluded from patentability, what conversely can be patented and under which requirements. A good patent policy has to been crafted to encourage innovation, while a bad patent policy could lead to a derailed system. This choice cannot be left to the patent microcosm.

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The Proposal for a Regulation on The Unitary Patent

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  • Propositions de la Commission sur le brevet unitaire (+ juridiction unifiée, nécessite peut-être un autre slide)
  • Pas de brevet UE mais un brevet de l'OEB
  • conditions de délivrance du brevet dans Convention mais effets du brevet définis par le règlement
  • Utilisation de l'article 142 CBE

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Unfortunately, the Commission's proposal for a regulation on the unitary patent does not follow this path. On the contrary, the proposed regulation does not create an EU patent but just use the usual patent granted by the EPO, with a special “unitary” flag, meaning that the validity of such a patent should be considered throughout all participating Member States. And the EU would not be part of the agreement setting up a unified patent jurisdiction. Instead, this court would be common to all participating Member States.

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An Iffy Legal Basis

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  • Corrections nécessaires sur la base juridique pour la création de la juridiction renforcée
  • article 118 compétence pour créer un "titre européen pour assurer une protection uniforme des droits de propriété intellectuelle (...) : une variété du brevet européen
  • problèmes de la voie de réglementation choisie : difficile combinaison entre le règlement et la Convention sur les brevets
  • compétence des États sur ce domaine : peuvent-ils /doivent ils signer un accord international conformément à l'article 142 ?

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  • Texte avec points clés

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Moreover, the Commission's proposal for a regulation on the unitary patent is actually raising question about the validity of its legal basis. The Spanish and Italian government have already challenged the decision to operate through the enhanced cooperation procedure before the ECJ. And they have pledge to similarly challenge the regulation implementing this enhanced cooperation.

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Amendment Required: Creation of an Actual EU Patent

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  • Pour respecter l'article 118 TFUE, il faut créer un brevet de l'UE

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It follows that some amendments to the proposed regulation are required. First it should be made clear that the unitary patent is a patent title of the EU, as stated by the legal basis in the EU Treaties.

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Amendment Required: Deletion of References to the European Patent Convention

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  • L'utilisation de l'article 142 CBE est doûteuse, mieux vaut la supprimer

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Second, references to the provisions of the EPC used to flag the usual EPO patent should be deleted.

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Amendment Required: Delegation to EPO and Embodiment of EPC Rules Inside EU Law

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  • Délégation de la délivrance du brevet unitaire à l'OEB selon les règles de la CBE qui doivent être incorporées dans le droit UE

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Third, would the unitary patent being granted by the EPO, the EU should explicitly define this delegation of powers. Additionaly, rules of the EPC used for granting unitary patents should be deemed to be liable in the same conditions as if such acts have been exercised by an EU agency.

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Amendment Required: Substantive Patent Law

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  • définir le droit matériel des brevets s'appliquant au brevet unitaire, soit en prévoyant une directive, soit en incluant et corrigeant la définition d'une invention brevetable, soit en éliminant les brevets logiciels

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Finally, the regulation should clarify provisions of the EPC related to what should be excluded from patentability, what conversely can be patented and under which requirements. This can be done either by planing a separate legislation, by clarifying main provisions inside the regulation on the unitary patent. Or, for the special issue of software patents, by directly stating that they should be excluded.

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Conclusion: Adopt Amendments

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  • Conclusion: this is all about the degree of autonomy of the EU wants to leave to the EPO

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The bottom line is that the regulation on the unitary patent is all about the degree of autonomy of the EU wants to leave to the EPO. The Commission's proposal is obviously too much EPO centric, expanding the patent bubble. We have proposed a set of amendments that would give back to EU, the necessary democratic control of the innovation policy. Support these amendments!