The UPC Preparatory Committee has announced that it is working under the assumption that the Provisional Application Phase (PAP) of the UPC will start in May 2017 and that the UPC Agreement (UPCA) and Court itself will come into force/become operational in December 2017.
Following the commencement of the PAP, the relevant formal governing bodies for the UPC will be kicked into life and will take over responsibility for further preparatory work, including the process for judicial appointments. Furthermore, the sunrise period for opting-out EPs will commence later in the year (currently planned for September 2017) such that holders of such patents will have at least three months to take advantage of this option prior to the Court opening its doors for business. And at the same time as the UPC comes online, Unitary Patents will also become available.
However, the Preparatory Committee have been careful to qualify this timeline as it is dependent on a number of things. In particular, it is conditional upon the necessary ratifications of the UPCA having been completed (and currently the mandatory UK and German ratifications are still outstanding, although it is anticipated that these will be completed in April) and accession to the Protocol on Provisional Application. So the timeline could slip, but the UPC train appears to be well and truly back on the tracks and users of the European patent system therefore need to start thinking again about how to use the system to their best advantage.