Denmark to vote on joining EU patent court 'within months'

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The Danish government will call a referendum to join the EU's Unified Patent Court within the next few months, according to the newspaper Berlingske Tidende.

According to the newspaper, the government has included a bill in its upcoming legislative proposals to join the Unified Patent Court, if this is approved in a referendum.

Because Denmark has an opt-out from EU legislation on Justice, if more than 80% of MPs do not support the idea, the government must call a referendum, which would have to take place before next June.

Sources close to the Danish government say a referendum could even be arranged this autumn or winter.

The issue is supposed to be discussed in the government's coordination cabinet soon and, according to Berlingske Tidende, hope remains within the government that the nationalist and anti-EU party, the Danish People's Party, will change its mind and vote for the proposal.

"Our roadmap is to publish our proposals and argue why the parliament should support this. It's so obviously in our interest because it would also protect the inventions that are being made in Denmark," the Minister for Trade and European Affairs, Nick Hækkerup, said.

Both the Danish People's Party and the semi-communist Red-Green Alliance are blocking an agreement.

"We will reject the proposal that Denmark should become part of the Unified Patent Court. If there then has to be a referendum it's up to the government. I can't see what should make us change our minds," said the leader of the Danish People's Party Kristian Thulesen Dahl.

'Give them what it takes'

A common European court is supposed to make patent applications easier and cheaper within the EU as companies would only have to apply in one place, instead of in several EU countries, as at present. It is thought that such an arrangement would boost Europe’s competitiveness against other world regions.

A patent court has actually been one of Denmark’s priorities in recent years.

After 30 years of discussions about where the headquarters of a new potential patent court could be located, EU leaders finally agreed during the Danish EU presidency in June 2012 to set one up in Paris, with two departments in Munich and London. All EU countries signed up for this, except for Croatia, Poland and Spain.

Speaking at a congress organised by the Danish industry association, the Social Democratic Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said there was a direct link between innovation, jobs and growth and that she still had not heard a valid argument against the patent court from the Eurosceptic parties.

Opposition leader, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, a Liberal, said the prime minister would have to offer the Danish People's Party "what it takes" for them to vote in favour of joining the Patent Court.

"The government is trying in every possible way to keep us out when it comes to deciding on Denmark's EU policies," Thulesen Dahl said. "So why should we change our fundamental scepticism towards the European Patent Court when we don't have any influence anyway?"

Marlene Wind, a professor of EU studies at Copenhagen University, said that she expected the referendum on Unified Patent Courts to be combined with the European Parliament elections next year.

"It's probably best to put it together then. I think it would be best to not combine it with an opt-outs referendum as that is a debate which is about something completely different. I think more damage would be done mixing those things," Wind said.

Positions: 

A number of global organisations such as Microsoft, Apple and Adidas said in a statement that they worry two rules of procedure will undermine the Unified Patent Court; the rule of bifurcation and injunctions, and these concerns should be addressed through targeted changes of the procedure.

"We appreciate that Europe has long worked towards a unified patent system, and we hope the proposed new system will be a significant step forward with the potential to benefit both the creators and consumers of innovative products and technologies. An effective and balanced unitary patent system has the potential to decrease the costs of obtaining patent protection, increase European competitiveness, and support the long-term growth of innovative industries in Europe and abroad," the organisations wrote.

Timeline: 
  • 22-25 May 2014: European Parliament elections.
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