Actavis v Eli Lilly in the High Court: Better reach for a tablet when litigating patents.

In Actavis v Eli Lilly, the High court (Patents) upheld jurisdiction for the English courts to hear a case in which applicant seeks a pan-European declaration of non-infringement of a patent. Actavis, a generics manufacturer, sought declaration that it had not infringed Eli Lilly’s patent for Permetrexed, a cancer treatment.

Arnold J, along the lines of  the Supreme Court’s decision in Lucasfilm v Ainsworth, held that forum non conveniens arguments would not sway the Court towards declining jurisdiction for the non-UK parts of the declaration (Germany, France, Italy, Spain).  Arnold J referred to the de facto approximation of patent law in the various EU Member States:

‘As to the different national approaches, I accept that there are differences. In my view, however, the differences are rather less now than they have been in the past. Certainly, in recent years the European patent judiciary have been striving for consistency. I am sceptical that the remaining differences of approach, as opposed to other factors, are responsible for different outcomes in parallel cases. In any event, it seems to me to be manifest that it will reduce the likelihood of inconsistent decisions if one court at first instance and one court on appeal determines all five of Actavis’ claims.

The judgment adds to the layer of complexity in intellectual property litigation. Prima facie the judgment may offer a great means to have pan-European patent infringement cases held in England (the very reference to a number of pending trial dates even in Germany, quietly underline the speed with which the UK can hear cases such as these).

Distinguishing is however of the essence:

– Actavis are headquartered in Switzerland (one will recall that under the Brussels I Regulation, the plaintiff’s domicile or nationality is generally irrelevant). Defendant is domiciled in the State of Indiana, United States. The declarations are not sought against any EU domiciled companies – Brussels I is not applicable. The outcome may be entirely different had the opposite been the case.

– The validity of Lilly’s patent is not sub judice. This too, even outside the Jurisdiction Regulation (where the exclusive ground of Article 22(4) would have trumped English jurisdiction), may have led to a different outcome under forum non conveniens arguments.

– Arnold J’s suggestion of de facto approximation may not hold with the ECJ for actions which do come within the Jurisdiction Regulation. As reported on this blog, even in Solvay, the ECJ  does not drop its insistence per Roche that de lege lata, European patent law remains national.

All of this may lead indeed to the awkward result that patent infringement cases are more swiftly and expertly dealt with in EU courts against non-EU defendants, then against EU defendants.

Geert.

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