Yesterday’s announcement of a snap general election in June could yet again delay implementation of the Unified Patent Court, solicitors have predicted.

A statutory instrument on implementing the new court still needs to be approved by both houses of parliament before the government can formally ratify the UPC treaty.  This process could take several weeks, though IP lawyers have told the Gazette the plans are unlikely to face opposition.

The UK had hoped to ratify the procedure between now and the end of May so that the court would be operational by December this year.

However, it is unlikely this will now happen before parliament is dissolved on 3 May, throwing the prospect of ratification before the summer into doubt.

Robert Burrows, partner at London firm Bristows, told the Gazette a start date of early 2018 could be a more realistic possibility. ‘The news came at a time when, at least on the UPC front, the position had begun to look a little more settled,’ he said. ‘We’re investigating the implications ourselves, but this could well cause a slight delay in UK ratification, which could in turn cause a slight delay in the likely start date for the UPC.’

But Luke McDonagh, an IP lecturer at City University, London, told the Gazette the decision whether or not to even ratify the agreement could be up in the air. 

'It is clear there will be a delay now. Everything is likely to cease pending the election. The decision to ratify may even be up in the air. Suffice to say, the UPC organisers will not be best pleased at yet more uncertainty,' he said.

Once operational, the UPC will hear patent disputes and have one of its major bases in Aldgate Tower, on the edge of the City of London. 

It will, on occasion need to refer certain matters to the Court of Justice of the European Union. Despite this, the Intellectual Property Office maintains that the UPC is ‘not an EU institution’ and instead an international court set up under international law.

However, according to one of the rules covering the UPC, only lawyers registered to practise before a court in an EU member state are able to litigate through the court. That would prevent UK-based solicitors and barristers acting for clients in the court after the UK leaves the EU.