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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Britain pleased and surprised some of its European Union partners on Monday by pledging to ratify a new, unified patent system for the bloc even though London is about to leave the EU.
Slovak Economy Minister Peter Ziga, who chaired a meeting of EU counterparts in Brussels, told reporters he was "very pleased" that Britain had committed to be ready to ratify the international agreement in the first half of next year.
Ratification by Britain, one of the EU's three biggest economies, was a condition for the Unitary Patent Court (UPC) to come into being and there had been concerns since June's Brexit referendum that years of work could be undone if the British government halted the process as it prepares to quit by 2019.
Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Britain's minister for intellectual property, said in a statement that the new patent system would benefit firms across Europe, adding: "As long as we are members of the EU, the UK will continue to play a full and active role."
She said Britain wants to maintain free trade and strike a Brexit deal to let British firms "operate in" the EU's single market: "But the decision to proceed with ratification (of the UPC) should not be seen as pre-empting the UK's objectives or position in the forthcoming negotiations with the EU."
Her statement also noted that the UPC, created by EU states, was not an EU institution itself but an "international patent court" whose judiciary includes British judges.