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Milan the exemplary location for the EU Patent Court. The echo of innovation at the start of the Judicial Year

Milan the seat of the European Patent Court. Its candidacy, launched some time ago by the Order of Milanese Lawyers and immediately backed by the mayor, Beppe Sala, and by the Governor of the Lombardy Region, Attilio Fontana, has obtained the official support of the Government, with an explicit undertaking by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs led by Enzo Moavero Milanesi. An important form of support, given that the decisions about the European Court depend upon the agreement of the 26 European countries which have signed up to the convention on intellectual property and on the “single patent”. This Court has a central head office, in Paris, and two specialised subsidiary head offices, in Munich (for mechanical engineering) and London (for chemicals and pharmaceuticals): it is precisely this latter one which Milan is aiming for, following the English choice of Brexit. The building which might host it is also ready: furnished premises in Via San Barnaba, next to the Palace of Justice.

The Italian claim is an authoritative one: ours is one of the largest European economies and the fourth-ranking country in the EU for the number of patents lodged. The arrival of the Court, as well as stimulating services to a major industry which are worth several hundred million Euros a year (conferences, conventions, legal assessments, scientific laboratories, local offices for international businesses keen to monitor closely the practices linked to patents), would have an obvious technical impact, in the form of a new stimulus for innovation for businesses, universities and research organisations, but would also have a strong symbolic value, by way of recognition of the role of Milan as an attractive and competitive high-tech city specifically in the world of life sciences, and as a boost to the expectations for international economic development. And it would remedy, even if only partially, the disappointment about the failure of the city to secure the head office of the EMA, the European Medicines Agency: notwithstanding a brilliant and solid dossier, Milan was beaten in a lottery by a poorly-prepared Amsterdam, paying the cost for a lack of well-directed political and governmental support. If we look at things carefully, however, particularly from a political perspective, this could be a weakness for the candidacy of Milan: the present “yellow/green” Government has certainly not spared any occasion to enter into an open argument especially with France and Germany, the two largest EU countries, and is paying the price of a degree of isolation in respect of the institutions of Brussels.

There is a widespread hope now, however, that the match for the Patent Court will be played out with intelligence and balance, in the interests of the whole of the country’s economic system.

There was an obvious echo of this match during last Saturday’s ceremony for the inauguration of the Judicial Year in Milan. Not simply, as would be natural, in the speech by the Chair of the Order of Lawyers, Remo Danovi, but in the actual report from the First Chair of the Court of Appeal, Marina Tavassi.

A report, once again, duly documented and focused on the essential questions of the efficiency and effectiveness of justice and on the fundamental relationship between the functioning of the judicial machinery and the economic and civil development of the country (a subject which, in the course of recent years, has been close to the hearts of the assiduous relationship between the Palace of Justice and the Assolombarda industrial association, on the questions of legality as a fundamental asset for competitiveness).

“Milan could be the ideal head office for the Central Court for the Single Patent”, declared Chair Tavassi, reminding everyone that the city is already the head office of a local division of the Court and that “Lombardy holds the prize for innovation in Italy and is situated in 11th position for investment in research and development, the leading Italian Region”. A prize worth underlining: “This is where 33% of national patents have been registered and where 27% of Italian scientific research, mainly quoted at a global level, is carried out, compared with a national proportion, in terms of population, which is more restricted (16.5%). The Region boasts the highest percentage of businesses which invest in research and development (49.8%). It is the same for knowledge-intensive start-ups, where there is a high level of average growth over the mid-term (6.9%, the same as Baden Wurttenberg). In this context, Milan is enjoying a period of significant buzz”.

It is indeed justice, within the positive dynamics of economic growth, which has a key role of incentivisation to play.

The rapid resolution of disputes, the dissemination of timely and efficient tools for conciliation and arbitration (the Arbitration Chamber of the Milan Chamber of Commerce is an example of increasing efficiency and a point of reference for all the Italian Arbitration Chambers), and the quality of the decisions of the Business Tribunal are all elements which have an impact on the attractiveness of Milan for international investment and for the development plans of the best businesses.

The actual timeframes for justice in Milan are quicker than elsewhere. The report by Chair Tavassi quotes data from a survey by the ministry for Justice about the performances of judicial officials in relation to civil cases, from which there emerges an average duration for an appeals procedure of 1,061 days (equivalent to two years and eleven months), double the international benchmark, whereas in Milan the average duration is 545 days, equivalent to one year and six months, even lower than the 631-day international average. Milan, a large and complex judicial district, is thus an exemplary case.

These positive results have been achieved despite a serious staffing crisis, which has been deplored once again both by the Chair of the Court of Appeal Tavassi and by the Attorney General, Roberto D’Alfonso (who also strongly denounced the risks of a growing presence of Mafia-related criminality):  we have 674 magistrates, against 773 in Rome and 693 in Naples, 2 members of administrative personnel (clerks, employees, secretaries) for each magistrate compared with the national average of 3.3 and the presence of 4 support staff per magistrate in certain judicial centres (Rome, Naples, Reggio Calabria, Palermo).

The comment by Chair Tavassi is extremely critical: “It is legitimate to ask oneself what the reasons might be for this constant lack of interest for a judicial centre which has demonstrated a maximum of commitment, which has achieved significant results, which carries out its activities in a region which is strategic for the image of the country and a driving force for its economy. Is there perhaps an intent to minimise the achievements of Milan and to reduce it to the same level of congestion and delays that are those of other judicial centres?”.

The minister, in fact, “is unaware of the urgent requirements of Milan”. The point of view is clear and explicit. The onus is now on the minister of Justice to formulate a suitable response, in terms of choices, investment and focus. The report from Chair Tavassi concludes as follows: “We know that the complexity of the judicial system and the duration of trials constitute a significant disadvantage for our country in the international context. How justice functions is actually one of the primary evaluation factors in assessing the degree of civility of a country, with important repercussions, be they for encouraging national investment, or for attracting investment from abroad”.

In the match about justice, then, matters once again go beyond the scope of the court buildings. It directly affects the world of businesses and jobs, university, the scientific community, the local administrative powers. In the justice-economy relationship too we are playing for the future of Milan, the city of innovation.