Mix of legal and technical judges proposed as patent litigation expected to rise
The European Commission has proposed a new European Community patents court, which could lead to non-lawyers acting as judges in England and Wales for the first time. The commission is planning to set up a central Community Patent Court in Luxembourg, attached to the Court of First Instance, to grant patents applicable to the whole of the EU. The Bench at this new court will be comprised of legally qualified judges and non-legally qualified 'technical' judges. These technical judges will be experts in physics, chemistry or mathematics. The commission plans to add regional patents courts to the new structure. The UK, an obvious setting for one of the new regional courts, will then see non-legal judges handling patents cases. Roger Wyand QC, deputy chairman of the Intellectual Property Bar Association, said: "When we get to the stage of regional courts, these will probably be set up in areas where there is a lot of litigation. "There could be two UK courts, two German courts, and one court in any other European Union jurisdiction where there is a lot of litigation. If a regional court is set up in the UK there will be technical members who are non-lawyers sitting as judges." At the moment, non-lawyer experts only judge cases in employment tribunals and there are no such experts allowed to pass judgment at High Court level or above. The commission's working document on the planned Community Patent Court states: "The volume of litigation and thereby the workload of the first instance jurisdiction can be expected to grow. The commission considers it appropriate, already at this stage, to envisage clear criteria for the launching of the mechanism to set up regional chambers." Of the non-lawyer judges, the commission says: "The jurisdiction shall comprise both 'legal' and 'technical' members. When the system becomes operational the approach put forward opts for seven judges, including four members and three technical members."