Court Judgment in Solvay: Roche distinguished, jurisdiction for provisional measures upheld in spite of Article 22(4) JR.

Solvay, case C-616/10 [I reported on the AG’s Opinion here; readers may want to have a quick look at that post before or after reading on], was decided by the Court on Thursday, 12 July. AG and Court revisited a number of old chestnuts in the application of the Brussels I Regulation (the Jurisdiction Regulation or ‘JR’): the exclusive ground of jurisdiction with respect to intellectual property rights, of Article 22(4); multipartite litigation in Article 6 JR; and finally provisional measures, referred to in Article 31.

Solvay accuses Honeywell Flourine Products Europe BV and Honeywell Europe NV of performing the reserved actions in the whole of Europe and Honeywell Belgium NV of performing the reserved actions in Northern and Central Europe. In the course of its action for infringement, on 9 December 2009 Solvay also lodged an interim claim against the Honeywell companies, seeking provisional relief in the form of a cross-border prohibition against infringement until a decision had been made in the main proceedings.  In the interim proceedings, the Honeywell companies raised the defence of invalidity of the national parts of the patent concerned without, however, having brought or even declared their intention of bringing proceedings for the annulment of the national parts of that patent, and without contesting the competence of the Dutch court to hear both the main proceedings and the interim proceedings.

On the applicability of Artice 6 (multipartite litigation), the Court agrees with the AG that Roche still holds: the same situation of law cannot be inferred where infringement proceedings are brought before a number of courts in different Member States in respect of a European patent granted in each of those States and those actions are brought against defendants domiciled in those States in respect of acts allegedly committed in their territory. A European patent continues to be governed, per the Munich Convention, by the national law of each of the Contracting States for which it has been granted.

However in the specific circumstances of a case, Roche may be distinguished: whether there is a risk of irreconcilable judgments if those claims were determined separately, is for the national court to determine. The Court of Justice instructs the national court to take into account, inter alia, the dual fact that, first, the defendants in the main proceeding are each separately accused of committing the same infringements with respect to the same products and, secondly, such infringements were committed in the same Member States, so that they adversely affect the same national parts of the European patent at issue.

On the application of Article 22(4), the Court emphasises the very different and unconnected nature of Article 22 and Article 31. They are part of different titles of the Regulation, etc. However, on the other hand, the application of one part of the Regulation may of course have an impact on the remainder, hence one cannot simply apply different parts of the Regulation in splendid isolation.

The COJ notes that according to the referring court, the court before which the interim proceedings have been brought does not make a final decision on the validity of the patent invoked but makes an assessment as to how the court having jurisdiction under Article 22(4) of the Regulation would rule in that regard, and will refuse to adopt the provisional measure sought if it considers that there is a reasonable, non-negligible possibility that the patent invoked would be declared invalid by the competent court. Hence there is no risk of conflicting decisions: the interim proceedings have been brought will not in any way prejudice the decision to be taken on the substance by the court having jurisdiction under Article 22(4) .

‘…does not make a final decision’: this effectively means that the Court simply states that as long as the main condition of Article 31 is met [measures covered by Article 31 need to be ‘provisional’; see also Case C-261/90 Reichert], Article 22(4) does not interfere with a court’s jurisdiction under Article 31.

Geert.

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