Philips v TCL. On lis alibi pendens /res judicata, and FRAND proceedings.

In Koninklijke Philips NV v Tinno Mobile Technology Corporation & Ors [2020] EWHC 2553 (Ch) Mann J considers the English side of a licence on  ‘FRAND’ (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) terms.  In these English proceedings Philips seek inter alia, a declaration that the terms it has offered are FRAND, or alternatively that FRAND terms be determined. Its injunction claim accepts that the injunction will only come into force if a worldwide FRAND licence is not accepted by TCL, one of the defendants who is seeking the licence. TCL have commenced proceedings in France which, inter alia, seem to seek to have FRAND terms determined. Philips attempted to have those proceedings stayed pursuant to Article 29 Brussels Ia, but that attempt failed, as did an application for a stay under Article 30 BIa. In turn, not surprisingly, TCL seek a stay of the English proceedings, including, crucially, the vacation of a trial date in November which is intended to determine FRAND issues, in favour of its French proceedings pursuant to the same Articles 29 and/or 30 Brussels Ia.

Philips’ claim form says it is for infringement of two of its European patents, corresponding injunction (prohibiting further infringement) and damages or an account of profits, and other ancillary relief.

At 49 in assessing the impact of the French judgment and the scope of its res judicata, Mann J justifiable refers to C-456/11 Gothaer, that it is not just the ‘dispositif’ of a judgment which has res judicata, but also the core reasoning: at 40 of the CJEU judgment: ‘the concept of res judicata under European Union law does not attach only to the operative part of the judgment in question, but also attaches to the ratio decidendi of that judgment, which provides the necessary underpinning for the operative part and is inseparable from it …’

His enquiry of the dispositif and the French judge’s reasoning as well as, to a certain extent, the submissions of the parties, leads Mann J to conclude that the French judge did not hold that the French court was first seized of FRAND proceedings. Instead, she held that the proceedings in England and the proceedings in France did not (for the purposes of A29) have the same subject matter. That means that the question of first seised became irrelevant.

Mann J then holds himself that the English court was first seized of the FRAND issue and consequently has no power under A30 BIa to stay its proceedings. It was suggested in vain by counsel for the defendants that Articles 29 and 30 are not acte clair on the point of new actions arising in an existing action, given a distinction between the word “proceedings” in Article 29 and “actions” in Article 30 at least in the English version of those Articles.

The jurisdictional challenge was rejected and the relief granted.
Geert.
(Handbook of) European Private International Law – 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.14.5.
Third edition forthcoming February 2021.

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