Mixed patent firms Meissner Bolte and Santarelli have announced a formal cooperation prior to the UPC launch. In future, the respective German and French outfits will collaborate under the new 'European Patent Litigators Network' brand. The latest UPC venture is just one of several in the European patent market, with at least six firms recently establishing new networks before the court launches in June 2023.
6 February 2023 by Amy Sandys
Just four months before the Unified Patent Court is set to open its doors, mixed IP firms Meissner Bolte and Santarelli have announced the launch of a new cooperation. It will function under the brand name ‘European Patent Litigators Network’ (EPLN).
With Meissner Bolte based across eleven offices in Germany, and Santarelli present in ten locations across France, the EPLN aims to share knowledge between the two jurisdictions and enhance client experience before the UPC.
While the two patent firms will operate under the EPLN brand, they are keen to emphasise that both firms will continue to act independently of one another. For example, if a client comes to Santarelli with a UPC instruction, only lawyers from the French firm will carry out the necessary litigation or prosecution work.
However, the cooperation does extend to knowledge sharing and developing expertise specific to the jurisdiction of each firm. As such, if Meissner Bolte needed advice concerning a French aspect of law such as the saisie–contrefaçon, Santarelli would be its first port of call.
Luc Santarelli says, “The aim of our cooperation is to show clients that Santarelli Group is pooling expertise with another major European IP law firm, Meissner Bolte, across national borders. We will also demonstrate that we are ready to take on major UPC cases, typically those with multiple patents.
We also realise that the UPC practice will require not only knowledge of the UPC Agreement and Rules of Procedure, but also local law and jurisprudence. As such, Santarelli Group and Meissner Bolte aim to share knowledge between the colleagues in the network, ensuring the EPLN has a deep background on the UPC, as well as on German and French – and perhaps later Italian and Dutch – patent litigation law and practice.”
In practice, the firms could even act on the opposite side to each other in a case. However, the firms often work together, such as in pre-litigation and patent prosecution proceedings. They expect this to extend to litigation, including infringement and nullity actions, for clients – perhaps even at the UPC.
Meissner Bolte and Santarelli have been developing the cooperation since 2016, when the UK became the eleventh country to ratify the Unified Patent Court Agreement. As such, UK patent attorney firm Kilburn & Strode was originally part of the EPLN cooperation alongside Dutch patent attorney firm, V.O. However, the UK government has since withdrawn the country’s participation in the court, while V.O. is also no longer a part of the cooperation. Now the French and German mixed firms are keeping a keen eye on the European market.
With the Italian government aiming for Milan to be named as the third central division, as well as the Dutch legal system being driven by both continental and common law, the EPLN has its future sights set on mixed firms in Italy and the Netherlands.
Kay Rupprecht is a senior partner and patent attorney at Meissner Bolte. He is also secretary of the EPLN. He says, “The UPC will be a challenge for all patent lawyers, given the increasing time pressure in proceedings. Clients therefore will rely more heavily on both patent attorneys and litigators, who will in turn need expertise about the main jurisdictions such as France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
The EPLN will allow Meissner Bolte and Santarelli, and eventually other patent firms, to share local and domestic knowledge. We will also be better able to harmonise legal proceedings between the UPC’s jurisdictions.”
Currently, Meissner Bolte has 71 patent attorneys and eleven lawyers in Germany, with another office in Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, UK. In Germany, the firm saw a recent high-profile departure when partner Tobias Wuttke moved from the mixed firm to Bardehle Pagenberg in Munich. This was a blow to Meissner Bolte, which had built a successful litigation practice under the significant influence of its best-known litigator.
Then, in January 2023, a patent attorney and medical technology expert moved to the Munich office of German-Swiss law firm Keller Schneider. However, Meissner Bolte also announced new partner additions in its litigation and patent prosecution departments.
In March 2021, Santarelli, Ipside and Brevalex joined forces to create new mixed patent attorney firm, Santarelli Group. Although the firms will only legally finalise the merger in the coming months, the Santarelli Group is the entity which is part of the EPLN. Since the merger was announced, the Santarelli Group outfit became one of the three largest patent attorney firms in France. It has 70 patent attorneys and five lawyers in France, and is also established across four offices in the US and China.
However, Meissner Bolte and Santarelli are not the first firms to have developed a joint UPC-oriented brand, with Hoyng ROKH Monegier and Taliens the first to set the trend. Pan-European mergers founded the two firms in 2015 and 2017, respectively. Both aimed to focus on Europe-wide patent cases, as well as with a view to future UPC proceedings. Then, in September 2022, following continuous delays to the UPC, German firm Vossius and Dutch firm Brinkhof announced a collaboration. In the future, it will bundle all UPC-related client advisory activities under the brand name Vossius & Brinkhof UPC Litigators.
Unlike Meissner Bolte and Santarelli, the Vossius and Brinkhof cooperation will handle all UPC work jointly and under the new brand. However, in the same vein as the most recent merger, the two firms also remain independent law firms in every other aspect.
Then, in November, London-based mixed IP firm EIP and French IP boutique Amar Goussu Staub announced an alliance under the brand name EIP Amar. EIP has European offices in the UK, Germany and now Sweden, with Amar Goussu Staub based in Paris. Now, with offices in Düsseldorf, Paris and Stockholm, the new outfit covers three important UPC locations. Recently, the IP boutiques worked together for the first time on behalf of Sonos in the dispute against Google.
Europe expects the UPC to open its doors on 1 June 2023. It will rule on the legal status of the new unitary patent, as well as European patents that owners have not withdrawn from the jurisdiction of the UPC. The court will also consider infringement of these patents. When it launches, 16 EU member states will participate in the court. However, eight other countries have yet to ratify the UPC Agreement, including Spain and Poland.