U.K.’s Exit Muddle May Help EU Unified Patent Court

U.K. red booths Brexit vote

The U.K.’s apparent difficulties at crafting and negotiating a European Union exit plan may increase the chances that the long-awaited Unified Patent Court comes to fruition.

Last week, the New York Times wrote that, two months after the Brexit vote, the U.K. government still has not said how its exit will be achieved, and there appears to be a lack of any real plan. The Guardian made a similar argument, saying that the government “does not know what it wants and is not yet equipped to ask for it.”

In fact, observers before and after the vote have warned that the withdrawal process will be messy and drawn out. Gus O’Donnell, the former head of the civil service, predicted that it may take up to 10 years to finalize the exit.

Investors have issued similar warnings. Prime Minister Theresa May had a shorter timeline but still warned that the—at minimum—two-year long process may not start until late 2019, putting the actual exit at more than five years after the vote.

A delay, though, could be good news for the planned unitary patent, which is designed to be a single patent right covering most of the EU, and the Unitary Patent Court.

The treaty underlying the unitary patent requires that 13 EU countries, one of which must be the U.K., ratify the agreement. The system, as currently planned, is not open to non-EU countries.

Not surprisingly, the Brexit vote clouded the outlook for the system, as it seemed improbable that the U.K. would ratify the treaty only to leave the EU a year or two later. But a prolonged withdrawal may change that calculus. What’s more, a longer timeline could present an opportunity to renegotiate or revise the agreement so the U.K. could participate in the unitary patent even as a non-EU member.

While uncertainty in such matters is rarely welcomed, in this case, a delay in figuring out how to proceed with Brexit may keep the dream of an EU-wide patent right alive.