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Europe came a step closer to establishing a centralized patent court recently when a group of 26 European patent judges agreed unanimously on proposed guidelines and rules of procedure for how the court could operate. Currently, each country in the European Union has its own procedures for litigating patent disputes. The European Commission, the bureaucracy that runs the European Union, mandated a European patent court seven years ago, but has yet to agree on the final language for establishing it. The judges’ committee, chaired by Sir Robin Jacobs, lord justice of appeal for England’s Court of Appeal, independently proposed rules on Nov. 4 for a new European court of original jurisdiction and a single appeals body for all cross-border patent disputes. The committee, which met in Venice, Italy, was comprised of judges from Germany, the Netherlands, France and Italy. The judges’ recommendations, which cover every aspect of patent litigation from notice and service of process to appeals and enforcement, support the European Patent Litigation Agreement, an earlier resolution that they drafted to help establish an effective forum for resolving European patent disputes. The judges sent their latest proposed rules and procedures to the European Commission. There is no timeline for approval of the recommendations. Similar to U.S. William R. Robinson, who heads the intellectual property practice at Norris McLaughlin & Marcus in Bridgewater, N.J., and has clients in France, Germany and Italy, welcomed the judges’ initiative, but said that he does not expect a European patent court to open soon. “I’m very much in favor of specialty courts,” in this instance trial judges and an appellate bench that understand patent cases, as well as making good law, Robinson said. “Conceptually, the idea is similar to what we have in the U.S., with the [U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit] in Washington,” Robinson said, where all appeals of patent cases go. The new rules propose to structure the trial level proceeding in three phases. First there’s a written phase, to provide the court with a full record of the matter at issue. Then there’s an interim phase, to bring the parties together before a judge to identify the relevant facts in dispute and, finally, an oral phase, to present concise arguments to the full panel of judges who will rule. The guidelines say that a new system should “ensure that where possible a first instance decision on the merits will be reached within one year of the commencement of the proceedings and an appeal within one further year.”

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