UPC court rules third parties must have legal representation to access court documents

A recent decision by the Unified Patent Court has determined that members of the public must have legal representation to access court documents, as juve patent recently detailed. The case continues and has led some observers to express concern about transparency at the Court, where increased costs may now apply to journalists, academics and other interested parties seeking to view pleadings or other evidence.

The decision was rendered during litigation between the UPC Nordic-Baltic division, Ocado online supermarket and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partner Christopher Stothers.

Stothers had requested access to documents in a litigation which has now been settled — between Ocado online supermarket and Autostore. However, since Stothers is not a registered official UPC representative, he was denied access to the documents by the court.

The court stated these new requirements are not unnecessarily burdensome and are necessary to ensure proper conduct of proceedings. Some legal observers argue in response that proceedings can only be conducted properly where there is no barrier to accessing case documents. And that the decision, therefore, undermines access to justice.

Notably, however, some UPC divisions take a different approach to third-party access to court documents. Legal observers see in this a threat to consolidation of pan-European patent proceedings.

While the conclusion on transparency is not yet final, the new rules present a financial burden to those who must pay a professional representative for an administrative task. Too, the decision may create doubt about the desire of the UPC to ensure transparency.