Language of UPC proceedings: will english prevail over german?

The UPC offers a uniform framework for patent litigation at a European level, but not (yet?) a uniform language of proceedings. While the ten possible UPC procedural languages bring diversity, they also complicate matters for both the parties and the UPC, which indeed recently advertised a vacancy for a translator with four-language proficiency.

In principle, the language of UPC proceedings is the national language of the corresponding local division where the case is filed, or the language in which the patent was granted (English, French or German) if the case is filed at the central division. A local division may also allow one or more of the official languages of the European Patent Office (English, French or German) as an alternative language of proceedings. While several local divisions adopted this option and allowed English as an alternative procedural language well before the UPC launch on 1 June 2023, the four German local divisions only did so on that date, thus many cases had already been prepared and were filed in German. However, English has been increasingly used since then, being an available language of proceedings before any UPC division.

At the end of 2023, 49% of the cases were filed in German and 40% in English, with the remaining cases filed in French, Italian and Dutch. At the beginning of March 2024, the predominant language of proceedings was still German, but its relative frequency had decreased to 48% while English had increased to 43%, meaning more cases filed in English than in German over the past few months. Interestingly, English is the only language of proceedings for cases filed at the Nordic-Baltic division, and the main procedural language at the Paris central and local divisions. English is also more and more used for cases filed at the German local divisions and this is presumably due to the composition of the panels, whose foreign judges certainly master English but might be less proficient in German.

If the above filing trend continues, English may overtake German in the near future. Which language will have the last word?

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