Category Archives: Law Blog

The Unitary Patent set to simplify the European patent process

At the end of last year, the European Parliament in Strasbourg adopted two draft regulations on the creation of the unitary patent as part of the “patent package” which also includes the creation of a Unified Patent Court (UPC).

The President of the European Patent Office (EPO), Benoît Battistelli welcomed the advantages of the unitary patent.

“Cutting the costs of patenting inventions in Europe will strongly benefit European enterprises, especially research centres and SMEs. The vision of the founding fathers of the EPO to equip the European economy with a truly supranational patent system can now become a reality, strengthening Europe’s competitiveness.”

The unitary patent will have effect in the 25 participating European states and will allow for a more straightforward European patent system. It is based on two regulations and an international agreement, the first regulation creates the instrument and the second deals with the applicable language regime for the new patent. The UPC is the third and last component of the “patent package” and will be set up under an international convention. This will create a unified patent litigation system and will function as a single patent jurisdiction concerning infringement and validity questions related to unitary patents.

The agreement establishing the UPC was signed by 24 states on the 19 February 2013 (followed by Bulgaria on 5 March 2013) and will enter into force once thirteen EU member states have ratified the package, including France, Germany and the UK.

The unitary patent will co-exist with national patents and the classical European patent, with which it shares the legal basis and the procedure for grant (as laid out in the European Patent Convention). The only difference will occur in the post-grant phase, and unitary patents will be treated as a single patent. Therefore they will no longer need to be validated or translated, nor will they need to be administered nationally in each and every state. This will not only simplify the patent process but it will also lead to massive savings in terms of time and costs. The changes should make Europe more attractive for innovation and investors, bringing it on a par with its competitors in Asia and the US.

The Story Behind the Treaty

This short film by the International Red Cross explains some of the background behind the Arms Trade Treaty signed last week by over 60 countries.

In the film Kathleen Lawand, Head of the Arms Unit at the International Committee of the Red Cross emphasised the importance of key aspects of the Treaty. She points out that the Treaty states that a country  “shall not authorise the transfer of weapons if it knows that these weapons would be used to commit genocide crimes against humanity or war crimes”

She adds that the Treaty also says “that even if a state does not know for sure that the weapons would be used to commit such crimes it must assess the risk that they could be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law or human rights law”.

This is particularly significant in terms of the legal context of the Treaty, as well as shifting responsibility of the consequences of arms exports onto the exporting states.

Arms Trade Treaty: First Step for International Justice

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT),  which was signed by 67 states last week, offers a much needed response to the human suffering caused by the widespread availability of weapons. The new Treaty stipulates that states must not transfer weapons or ammunition, if they know that these would be used to commit certain war crimes.

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s stated:

“I wholeheartedly welcome the adoption, today, of a first-ever Arms Trade Treaty by the General Assembly. It is a historic diplomatic achievement — the culmination of long-held dreams and many years of effort.”

The Treaty signing event

The Treaty signing event

The Treaty was adopted by vote by 154 members states on the 2nd of April 2013, with 23 abstentions and only three countries voting against – North Korea, Iran and Syria. Ban Ki Moon was optimistic about the impact this legislation will make in addressing human rights violations and armed conflict.

“It will be a powerful new tool in our efforts to prevent grave human rights abuses or violations of international humanitarian law. And it will provide much-needed momentum for other global disarmament and non-proliferation efforts.
I applaud states for their willingness to compromise on a number of complex issues, thus making it possible for us to have a balanced and robust Treaty text. I commend the members of civil society for the critical role they played from the inception of this process, through their expert contributions and enthusiastic support.”

The United States’ representative emphasised that “This Treaty sets a floor, not a ceiling” for the regulation of the international trade in conventional arms. Stating that when taken together, the Treaty’s articles provided a “robust and complementary” framework that would “ensure responsible behaviour” by state parties.

South Africa’s delegate added that the Treaty “filled a glaring gap” in the global conventional arms control system, by introducing high norms and criteria to which states would adhere when considering arms transfers. Under the Treaty state parties will be required to establish national transfer control legislation, as well as official administrative guidelines, national inspectorates, punitive and practical enforcement measures for transgressions.

Among those not in favour of the Treaty, Syria’s delegate pointed out that a number of states were supplying weapons to “terrorist groups” including those in Syria, and that this explained why they objected to a paragraph banning the supply of weapons to unauthorized non-State actors. “This is political hypocrisy, and a clear indication that the draft Treaty is greatly selective and, thus, cannot reach consensus.”

However, the representative of Colombia, Néstor Osorio, who was also speaking on behalf of a number of other countries (the Bahamas, Belize, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay), said in the circumstances the resulting text was the best that could have been achieved. As it “created a common international regime to regulate the arms trade, and offered the chance to further develop a more robust control regime, notably through amendments to the Treaty and adjustments to implementation at the Conferences of States Parties”.

The delegate of Argentina signing the Treaty

The delegate of Argentina signing the ATT, 67 states have signed the Treaty since it was opened for signature on the 3rd of June last week.

The ambassador of Australia, Peter Woolcott received praise for the transparent manner in which he conducted his presidency of the Final Conference that produced the final version of the text. Ambassador Roberto García Moritán of Argentina, was also recognised for his longstanding commitment and staunch leadership of the ATT process.

The adoption of this Treaty demonstrates the instrumental function of the United Nations in providing a platform through which governments and civil society can work together. Ban Ki Moon indicated that the adoption of the Treaty is only the first step and called upon all Governments to join forces with civil society to ensure its full and effective implementation”.

Don’t make people pay for music – Let them: An Alternative View Of Copyright Law

Alternative Rock icon Amanda Palmer presents a way of looking at copyright law and piracy. Her prolific use of Twitter and crowd funding sites like Kickstarter has allowed her to make a living asking for support, allowing her fans to make a choice to pay for music. This is a hugely insightful talk on copyright, piracy and the boundless opportunities of the internet. She highlights online tools and their role in the changing dynamic and culture of the music industry. Ultimately however, she emphasises that it is trust and the simple act of asking for help that has allowed her to build a career as a musician.

German Courts Refuse to Bow to US Pressure in MegaUpload Case

A German court in Frankfurt (Beschl. v. 14.05.2012 – Az.: 5/28 Qs 15/12) has ruled that a request for mutual legal assistance from the United States regarding stripping assets belonging to Kim Dotcom, has no basis for legal action in Germany.

Mural of Kim Dotcom painted by Cart’1 courtesy of Thierry Ehrman – Abode of Chaos.

Kim Dotcom, the founder of the file-sharing MegaUpload site was arrested in Auckland, New Zealand in January of this year. He had been sought by the US authorities on copyright infringement charges relating to pirated content on his websites.

As a part of the criminal investigation against the file-sharing service Megaupload, certain assets were supposed to be removed. This request was issued by the American FBI when they called for legal assistance from the German authorities.

The Frankfurt judges have since rejected this request, because it contains insufficient evidence. The US legal team failed to demonstrate that a web hosting service for the illegal upload of copyrighted files, amounts to a  criminal offence.

According to the German ‘Telemediengesetz’ (communications legislation), a hosting service for foreign files will generally not be accountable unless the host had active knowledge of illegal activity. The judges also emphasised that the concept of knowledge is limited to positive knowledge. Therefore if the service provider believes that it is possible or likely that a specific piece of information is stored on their server, this is not sufficient evidence of knowledge of abuse.

According to the court ruling, there is no legal obligation to monitor the transmitted data or stored information or to search for any illegal activity.

Since the US legal team did not mention any other circumstances that could constitute a criminal offence in their request for mutual legal assistance, the German court concluded that their request for the recovery of assets is unfounded.

BBC Radio 4: Focus on International Child Abduction

The BBC Radio 4 Face the Facts programme gives an introduction to international child abduction cases affecting parents in the UK. It focuses on signatories to the Hague Convention and on the difficulties in dealing with non-Hague Convention countries. The programme features stories of individual parents as well as legal experts on international child abduction – Lord Justice Thorpe and barrister Jacqueline Renton.

A recording of the programme is available here.

Update on the Grin Case: Petition to the US Secretary of State

There have been new developments in relation to the Grin case. A petition has been launched addressing US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an effort to help bring home four American children abducted by their non-custodial mother and illegally taken to Russia. The children were living in Florence, Italy with their custodial father before they were abducted by their mother, who lost custody a year earlier when she was found to be psychologically unfit to be a parent.

The family is now urging the US State Department to help by working with the Russian Foreign Minister to read the court documents and understand the severity of the situation and to get these children safely back home to Italy. This petition is a desperate attempt to accelerate the process of returning the children from Russia.

You can sign the petition here.

Legal Spoken Word Poetry

Michael Bossone performing ‘PUSH – A Spoken Word Poem about Law, Technology, and Fear’ first shown at Law Tech Camp London 2012 last week.

The conference was dominated by the theme of embracing technology in the legal profession.

Judging Judges – Is there a need for greater judicial scrutiny?

I attended Cheryl Thomas‘ inaugural lecture at the Judicial Institute at UCL last Wednesday where she talked about judicial studies and in particular, the study of judges and juries. I’d never really thought about judicial studies until I was trying to find empirical evidence of the behaviour of juries in criminal trials for a paper I was writing. All I found was a study from the early 1990s – The Crown Court Study, by Professor Michael Zander and Paul Henderson, so I used this slightly outdated evidence, feeling a little disheartened about my research skills. At the lecture I found out that this paper was in fact one of the few empirical studies of juries in the UK. Thomas described the study of juries in the UK as a as a “black hole” with academics remaining cautious about conducting research in the area, for fear of breaching Section 8 of the Contempt of Court Act.

Royal Courts of Justice Photo courtesy of Gareth Davies

However it is not only the study of juries that is largely neglected in the UK, but perhaps more surprisingly, the study of judges is also neglected even though this wouldn’t be limited by the Contempt of Court Act. This paucity of research could be due to a number of factors, most notably the commonly held belief that the judiciary should not be interfered with. In 1955 Lord Kilmuir famously claimed that there is a need for ignorance to “protect” the judiciary from scrutiny, establishing the so-called Kilmuir rules. This changed in the 1980s when these rules were revoked. In March, the current master of the rolls, Lord Neuberger, stated in a speech to the Student Law Society at Birmingham University:

“it seems to me only proper that judges, with their wisdom and experience, should be free to comment extra-judicially on a wide range of issues. In doing so they play an educative role. In areas such as constitutional principles, the role and independence of the judiciary, the functioning of the legal system, and access to justice, and even important issues of law, this role cannot be underestimated.”

His assertion that members of the judiciary should be able to make extra-judicial comments as well as having a public profile also came with a warning that judges must be cautious about what they say publicly.

In the US the area of judicial studies has greatly evolved since the 1950s with prominent academics such as Theodore L. Becker making it a well respected field of study. In the UK there has been little attempt to study the work of judges, the book by JAG Griffith on politics of the judiciary is based on very little empirical evidence and has failed to encourage further study. This also means that assertions made by those who write or comment on behaviour of the judiciary, as well as assumptions or sweeping statements, often go unchallenged regardless of their accuracy.

Thomas claimed that academics in England and Wales lack curiosity in relation to the judiciary, but she also stated that while they are not in opposition with judges, they do not have a great deal of contact with one another. It appears to her that academics have lost touch and no longer have the appropriate skills to study the judiciary.

The key problem in the judiciary of England and Wales lies with judicial appointments and the failure to improve diversity. While there is some progress being made in relation to the number of women appointed in the judiciary, the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) candidates remains very low. The current appointments to the judiciary of England and Wales are significantly unrepresentative of society, this is not only regarding gender and ethnicity but also taking into account socio-economic background.

The judiciary of England and Wales is often cited as being one of “the best” legal systems in the world. Although there is no international study to confirm or reject such an assumption, there is evidence to suggest that it fares very well in comparison to other states in terms of corruption and speed. Nevertheless it’s reputation is tainted by its poor diversity statistics, the public debate on the issue of diversity has become sterile and unproductive as a result of progress being so slow.

Establishing judicial studies as a respectable and rigorous academic field could not only increase public understanding and interest in the judiciary, but it could also serve to improve the quality and openness of our legal system.

The Communications Data Bill: Bogeymen and Blanket Surveillance

Despite warnings from digital rights groups, privacy advocates and experts in the tech world, the government has gone ahead with their plans for blanket surveillance measures on the internet, including controversial practices such as deep packet inspection (DPI).

The draft Communications Data bill published yesterday proposes that individuals’ data is stored using so called “black boxes” tracking their detailed internet use i.e. every website they visit, Google search terms, emails etc. A vast amount of data can be stored in these devices and using specialist software this data can be analysed using search functions and selection methods.

Currently Government Central Head Quarters (GCHQ) can access a large amount of data and conduct surveillance of specific suspects, the difference in the CCDP bill is that this data would be accessible in relation to any member of the public. The idea behind this seems to be that by conducting “blanket surveillance” the authorities could catch criminals who are not yet suspects.

Throwing such a wide net however would also consequently entangle innocent people and breach their privacy, while most likely only finding those criminals who lack basic internet skills. The issue here is rather who the authorities actually wish to target and where they plan to concentrate their resources, than assuming everyone is a suspected criminal. Apart from a terrifying intrusion into people’s private information this would be an arduous task for police, who currently are lacking the resources to analyse comparatively low levels of data already.

This brings me on to the next issue – costs. The proposed cost for the implementation of the bill is over a billion pounds. Judging by experience on spending for the Olympics this figure is likely to rise by quite a lot. At a time when there are cuts to essential services in the NHS, legal aid and right across the public sector, where will the government manage to drum up the money for implementing a misguided and ludicrous piece of legislation – which looks to only benefit the security industry itself.

While the security industry may prove lucrative for the government, the harm that this bill will cause to the public greatly overrides any government-business relations. Such an outright invasion of individuals’ privacy and the breach of personal freedoms and basic human rights cannot be justified by the government in any way whether it is business-motivated or not.

Analysing internet use can paint a very intimate picture of someone’s private life such as their health, financial situation and their personal relationships. It is not only an extreme breach of a person’s privacy but it is also completely unnecessary. Most of those affected will be innocent members of the public who may be unaware of the full extent of the bill and who do not know how to encrypt websites. Furthermore, the criminals that the government is referring to, can easily bypass the surveillance measures, thus making them even more difficult to catch.

While the government insists it will not read the data, it claims that it must have access to it for the purpose of catching criminals. Charles Farr – the head of the Home Office’s of security and counter-terrorism office, was extremely defensive when questioned about the bill and merely stated “trust us, we know”. On the contrary, it appears that any sensible person with expertise in the field of internet security would know that the proposals in the bill make very little practical or financial sense. Therefore trusting the government to “know what it’s doing” seems more and more naive on this issue.

It appears that this is just one of several bills the government is putting forward which seeks to take away fundamental personal freedoms and infringe basic human rights. Only on Sunday, Theresa May criticised judges for “not qualifying” Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and being too lenient on criminals who use Art.8 to remain in the UK (even though only 2% of foreign nationals facing deportation after criminal proceedings successfully apply Art.8 to remain in the UK). These recent policies proposed by the government are particularly worrying as they may have severe consequences for basic human rights in the UK.

The government has taken the line that this is an effective way of catching the usual bogeymen – terrorists and paedophiles. What they are still failing to consider, is that the system is relatively easy to bypass and simply requires the use of encrypted pages – in simple terms this means that websites using “https” rather than “http” cannot be tracked.