Ebuy Partners. Anti-suit viz Belgian proceedings re incorporation of e-mailed and /or hyperlinked general terms and conditions, with a serious miss on Rome I.

Ebury Partners Belgium SA/NV v Technical Touch BV & Anor [2022] EWHC 2927 (Comm) discusses ia whether choice of court and law included in general terms and conditions – GTCs, agreed (or not) by inclusion in email and /or e-mailed click-wrapeable hyperlink (this is a factual discussion), justifies an anti-suit injunction against Belgian proceedings.

Pre-Brexit such injunction would not have been possible. It has since of course been granted frequently; my most recent report of one was QBE Europe v Generali. Issuing an anti-suit post Brexit therefore is no longer surprising (commentators continue to suggest the EU should somehow shield EU proceedings from them). The application of the Rome I Regulation under retained EU law however does remain less discussed – and it is poorly executed in current judgment.

Anticipatory proceedings seeking a declaration of non-liability were launched unexpectedly (Belgian CPR requires no prior warning in any circumstance) in Belgium on 4 May 2022. The Belgian court later that month held that Ebury’s jurisdiction challenge  will not be dealt with separately, instead, as is standard, will be reserved for consideration at the same time as the merits.

The English proceedings were launched in July 2022. A critical question is whether Ebury can show, with a high degree of probability, that there is a jurisdiction agreement governing the dispute in question. Was the E&W jurisdiction clause contained in Ebury’s RA standard terms incorporated into the agreement between Ebury and TT? The factual circumstances are not conclusive, for there are suggestions of GTCS with choice of court sent by incorporation in an e-mail and /or by click-wrapeable  hyperlink similarly e-mailed.

The judge is correct to classify Rome I as retained law [83]. However the exclusion of choice of court agreements from that Regulation has somehow entirely escaped him and counsel, it seems.

Rather therefore than considering the issue under English conflict of laws (in EU Member States the issue is now subject to Article 25  Brussels Ia however that is irrelevant here), the judgment ventures into Article 10 Rome I’s putative law /von Munchausen /bootstrap principle, to identify English substantive law as the lex cause for the validity (including the issue of incorporation) of the choice of court. This leads after extensive discussion to a finding of incorporation under English law [102].

[103] ff Belgian law is signalled as a fall-back under Article 3(5) and 10(2) Rome I, however the judge essentially ignores that possibility (although he formally entertains it) by referring to a lack of indication on the facts that the counterparty agreed to the relevant clauses. He uses the ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’ formula to reach that conclusion: counterparty did consult or should have consulted the GTCs and there are no factual indications it disagreed with them. Conflicting Belgian law  expert evidence is not discussed.

Anti-suit was eventually granted.

If their apparent lack of raising the proper analysis (ie: no inclusion of choice of court) of the Rome I issue does not prevent defendants from appealing, they clearly should, to the extent the English conflict of laws approach to validity of choice of court, may lead to a finding of non-incorporation.

Geert.

The Dutch MH17 judgment and the conflict of laws. On civil claims anchored to criminal suits, and the application of Article 4(3) Rome II’s escape clause.

Their relevance is of course insignificant in light of the dreadful events that  triggered the judgments, however I thought I would flag the private international law elements in this week’s four Dutch judgments following the criminal prosecution of the suspects (now culprits) in the downing of MH17.

The judgment against Mr Pulatov was the  only one to respond to defence arguments actually made: he was the only one to have been represented (the other judgments were held in absentia). The judges extrapolate his arguments to the  other defendants to ensure some kind of proper representation, however they also explore further elements not raised by Mr Pulatov in the other judgments. This includes precisely the private international law elements for, it seems, no private claim was attached to the prosecution of Mr Pulatov while it was against the other defendants.

In this post I take the judgment against Mr Dubinskiy as the relevant text (structure and content of the other 2 judgments are essentially the same).

[12.4.1] discusses the possibility of judging the civil leg of a criminal suit. That the crimes could be prosecuted in The Netherlands is established on the basis of international criminal law of course, which is not the area of this blog. Jurisdiction for the civil leg is justified by reference to this being accepted international practice. Support (not: legal basis per se) is found by the court in Article 7(3) Brussels Ia:

A person domiciled in a Member State may be sued in another Member State:

as regards a civil claim for damages or restitution which is based on an act giving rise to criminal proceedings, in the court seised of those proceedings, to the extent that that court has jurisdiction under its own law to entertain civil proceedings;

and in the similar regime under the Lugano Convention. The court rejects a potential (this judgment as noted was issued in absentia) lis pendens argument vis-a-vis proceedings  in the United States. The court remarks that these judgments had already been issued before the Dutch criminal prosecution was initiated; that therefore there are no concurrent proceedings unto which a lis pendens argument could be raised; and that the US judgments reached the same conclusion.

Res judicata of the US judgments is dismissed as an element which would impact the Dutch judgments at this stage. The court does point out that res judicata may return at the enforcement stage of the damages part of the judgments, in that the victims will not be entitled to double compensation. Note that the US judgments included punitive damages which as readers will know is also a complicating factor for enforcement in the EU.

At 12.14.2 the court then turns to applicable law, for which it of course applies Rome II. With reference to CJEU C-350/14 Lazar, it dismisses the ‘extraordinary suffering’ of the relatives of the victims as ‘indirect damage’ under Rome II, instead exclusively taking the direct damage (the passing away) of the victims on Ukrainian territory as determinant for locus damni.

Dutch law is held not to be ‘manifestly more closely connected’ per A4(3) Rome II, despite the majority of the victims being Dutch. The court in this respect refers firstly to the link with Ukraine not being accidental (such as might be the case in ‘ordinary’ mass claims) but rather directly linked to the hostilities in Ukraine), moreover to the need to guard what it calls the ‘internal harmony’ of the judgment seeing as there are also non-Dutch relatives involved. This I find a touch unconvincing, particularly seeing as the court itself in the same para, with reference to Jan von Hein in Callies’ 2nd ed. of the Rome Regulations commentary, refers to the need to consider A4(3)’s escape clause individually, not collectively.

Geert.

Links to all 4 judgments:

https://deeplink.rechtspraak.nl/uitspraak?id=ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2022:12219

https://deeplink.rechtspraak.nl/uitspraak?id=ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2022:12218

https://deeplink.rechtspraak.nl/uitspraak?id=ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2022:12217

https://deeplink.rechtspraak.nl/uitspraak?id=ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2022:12216

GW Pharma v Otsuka. Moçambique rule confirmed as not being engaged in mere contractual dispute. Court of Appeal ia distinguishes direct intellectual property rights validity challenges, and proceedings “principally concerned with” validity.

In GW Pharma Ltd & Anor v Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd [2022] EWCA Civ 1462, the Court of Appeal confirmed jurisdiction for the courts of England and Wales, confirming the first instance judgment which I reviewed here.

The first instance judgment dismissing GW Pharma’s application decided three issues: jurisdiction under the Moçambique principle, foreign act of state and a distinct application for a stay on forum non conveniens grounds.

Arguments on appeal are listed [20] ff:

GW Pharma’s grounds 1 and 2 address the Moçambique principle and its application. GW Pharma contend that the judge erred in applying an overly restrictive test for the purposes of the Moçambique principle and further erred in his application of that test to the facts.

Ground 3 addresses the foreign act of state doctrine, and the common law public policy exception. The submission is that the judge erred in law in holding that the act of state doctrine (or common law public policy) did not require the court to decline jurisdiction.

Ground 4 relates to forum non conveniens, contending that the judge erred in declining a stay on those grounds.

Otsuka’s case is that the judge was right for the reasons he gave but Otsuka also advances two additional points in support of the judge’s overall conclusion. The first point is that as well as the exception to the Moçambique rule based on whether a validity challenge is direct or not which the judge applied, there is a second exception – for claims which relate to a contract. This case would also fall within that exception. The second point is a submission that GW Pharma’s case would necessarily involve a country-by-country approach, contrary to the approach adopted by the English courts in related contexts (citing the Supreme Court in Unwired Planet v Huawei [2020] UKSC 37). The relevant principles ought not to be applied so as to prevent Otsuka from bringing its contractual royalty claim against GW Pharma in a single set of proceedings in GW Pharma’s home jurisdiction.

Birss LJ [26] notes, with common sense, that Brussels Ia authority still has relevance, despite the Regulation no longer applying

the fact the Regulation does not apply is a different thing from the question whether aspects of the thinking behind the Brussels Regulation may illuminate questions which do arise.

[29] the main point of UKSC Lucasfilm is summarised as the

modern trend [being] in favour of the enforcement of foreign intellectual property rights, particularly where there is no issue as to validity.

That modern trend of course provokes discussion as to when a claim engages validity as opposed to mere infringement, with Chugai a classic illustration. The judge here sometimes necessarily skates on thin ice for creative counsel may direct the end-result by claim formulation. Here Birss LJ offers a relevant distinction between direct challenges to the validity of a patent, as opposed to proceedings being ‘principally concerned with’ such challenges:

In Chugai there is reference to both the idea of whether a validity challenge is a direct one and also to whether proceedings are “principally concerned with” validity. These two expressions are performing different tasks and it is worth keeping them distinct. A claim consisting of nothing other than a claim for infringement, in which the defendant does not claim that the patent is invalid, but merely requires the court to ask itself, as a guide to construction, what would be the hypothetical consequences for validity if there was infringement, does not involve a direct challenge to validity. Such a claim is also not principally concerned with validity. On the other hand a claim consisting of nothing other than a request for revocation on the ground of invalidity or a declaration of invalidity would be a direct challenge to validity, and would be principally concerned with validity. However a claim raising multiple issues might well properly be said not to be principally concerned with validity, even if one of the subsidiary issues was a direct challenge to validity; but in such a case the court’s response would depend on the circumstances. The court might not decline jurisdiction over the dispute as a whole but might address individual issues separately. If the direct challenge only arises on a contingent basis then the right response might involve case management. Unlike the judge below, I would not describe this latter situation as one in which what was really a direct validity challenge was rendered not a direct challenge owing to its subsidiary nature in the action as a whole. The nature of the challenge is a direct one, but its status in the proceedings as a whole means that they are not principally concerned with it.

This is a discussion which to my mind is also useful for the A24(4) discussion in Brussels Ia, sub judice in BSH Hausgeräte v Electrolux.

[38] ff discusses the long standing exception to the Moçambique rule concerning contracts and equitable obligations. [40] There are said to be two questions in the present case about the contract exception. One is whether it depends on the existence of an exclusive jurisdiction clause in the contract  (answered [42] in the negative] and the other is about the extent of the exception itself. Would it, for example, allow the court to entertain a direct challenge to the validity of a foreign patent which the court would not have had jurisdiction to determine in the absence of the relevant contract (or equitable obligation)? : [43]:

In a way the question is whether the exception really is an exception to a rule that the court has no jurisdiction to determine a claim principally concerned with title (etc.) to foreign land or whether it is really just a manifestation of the proper application of the test for what it does or does not mean to say that a claim is principally concerned with title (etc.). Or putting it another way, can the court, when considering a contract claim, decide on title to foreign land, and by extension the validity of a foreign patent?

[46] that question is answered with reference to the classic in rem v in personam discussion that is part of the original Moçambique rule (and A24(1)BIa)

The contract exception does not allow the court to make a decision about the validity of a foreign patent in rem but it would allow the court to address the validity of a foreign patent in the course of making a decision concerning contractual rights in personam, assuming (such as if the Lear point does work in the way I have described) such a question was relevant to the contract decision.

[48] ff Lord Justice Birss summarises:

Bearing all this in mind, I would state the Moçambique rule as explained and formulated in Lucasfilm, and as it applies to patents in the following way:

First, in a case in which the courts of England and Wales have in personam jurisdiction over a defendant, then the courts have jurisdiction in proceedings for infringement of a foreign patent save where those proceedings are principally concerned with a question of the validity of that patent. The proceedings will not be principally concerned with validity only because the defendant, who does not claim that the patent is invalid, requires the court to ask itself as a guide to construction, what would be the hypothetical consequences for validity if there was infringement. However what the rule does not permit is a direct challenge to the validity of a foreign patent, and (subject to the exception below) the court has no jurisdiction to determine a claim that the foreign patent is invalid.

Second, this Moçambique principle is also subject to a contractual exception. If the case is one in which the court is asked to enforce a contract between the parties then in addition to questions of patent scope/infringement, if and only to the extent that questions of the validity of foreign patents need to be addressed in order to decide on the true nature and scope of the parties’ contractual obligations to one another, then the court can do so.

Applying this summary to the first instance judgment, that judgment is confirmed [60].

The third ground of appeal then invokes the foreign act of State doctrine, in that is is said that (certain) intellectual property rights may be said to depend on the grant or registration by the state. Birss LJ dismisses the argument [73] essentially by suggesting it harks back to bygone notions of intellectual property rights:

even absent the authorities I would hold that as a matter of principle the modern grant of a patent for an invention does not fit within the act of state doctrine as it stands today for two reasons. The first reason relates to the exercise of grant itself. The very word “grant” harks back to a past time, before the Statute of Monopolies 1623, when letters patent were granted on the whim of the Stuart monarchs (and similarly I suspect the Danish monarchy in Blad v Bamfield). Today there is no such condescension by the sovereign power in the grant of a patent by the Comptroller of the Patent Office. Once a properly constituted patent application has been examined and found to comply with the requirements of the law, the Comptroller is required by statute to grant the patent. The relevant words are in s18(4) of the Patents Act 1977 which provide essentially that if the applicant’s application is all in order then ‘the comptroller shall … grant him a patent.’ The second reason follows on from this and was given by Henry Carr J in Chugai at paragraph 68. He observed that once the patent had been granted, any party can challenge the validity of the patent and then can do so in a manner and on grounds which are quite different from an attempt to challenge legislation or government acts such as requisition.

Conclusion on this ground [75]

on grounds of authority and principle, I agree with the judge below that the act of state doctrine is not relevant to the analysis of the court’s jurisdiction in this case.

The first instance judge’s finding on forum non is also confirmed and the appeal therefore dismissed.

I do not know whether, if sought, permission to appeal to the Supreme Court will be granted, but it seems unlikely. The appeal judgment in my view includes important instruction in particular on the ‘principally concerned with’ issue however it largely applies existing UKSC authority.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.196 ff.

Grand Production v GO4YU. Szpunar AG (not, due to suggested inadmissibility) on copyright, VPNs and forum delicti for platform streaming.

Szpunar AG opined a few weeks back in C-423/21 Grand Production v GO4YU  ea. The case involves a variety of issues related to streaming and VPNs, many of which concern telecoms law yet one is of interest to the blog: namely the question whether

in the event of an allegation of infringement of copyright and related rights guaranteed by the Member State of the court seised, that court has jurisdiction only to rule on the damage caused in the territory of the Member State to which it belongs – because the territoriality principle precludes domestic courts from having jurisdiction to determine and examine the facts in relation to foreign acts of infringement – or can or must that court also rule on offences committed outside that territory (worldwide), as alleged by the author whose rights were allegedly infringed?

It transpires from the Opinion however that the case in the national court does not involve one for damages, yet rather one for a temporary injunction prohibiting distribution. To the degree this is aimed at the Serbian defendants at issue, these are domiciled outside the EU and hence not subject for actions in tort, to Brussels Ia. Against the Austrian defendants, the case is subject to full jurisdiction under A4 forum re, hence not triggering the full or partial jurisdictional issues of the relevant CJEU case-law (Bolagsupplysningen etc.).

The AG suggests inadmissibility of the Brussels Ia question.

Geert.

ROI Land Investments. The CJEU on letters of comfort and their leading to a qualification as employment cq consumer contract for jurisdictional purposes, and on more generous national rules for the protected categories.

In an interesting judgment, the CJEU yesterday held (no English edition yet) in C-604/20 ROI Land Investments Ltd v FD on protected categories suing a defendant not formally associated with the claimant by a clear contract of employment. That the defendant is not domiciled in the EU is in fact of less relevance to the issues.  I had somehow missed Richard de la Tour AG’s Opinion on same (it happens to the best of us).

Claimant in the main proceedings is FD, domiciled in Germany. Defendant is not his current employer and is not domiciled in a Member State. Yet by virtue of a letter of comfort it is directly liable to the employee for claims arising from an individual contract of employment with a third party. The gist of the case is whether an employee can sue this legal person under the employment title if the contract of employment with the third party would not have come into being in the absence of the letter of comfort.

The slightly complex three part construction, transferring relationships of employment, essentially is one of tax optimisation via Switserland. FD used to be employed by ROI Investment, a Canadian corporation, before his contract was transferred to R Swiss, a Swiss SPV created for the very purpose of the operation. ROI Investment via a letter of comfort effectively guaranteed the outstanding wages due to FD. FD’s contract with Swiss was ended, a German court held this to have been done illegally and ordered Swiss to pay a substantial sum whereupon Swiss went into insolvency. FD now wishes to sue the Canadian ’employer’.

CJEU Bosworth is the most recent case which extensively discusses the existence of ’employment’, referring to CJEU Shenavai and Holterman. In ROI Land the CJEU [34] instructs the national court in particular to assess whether there is a relationship of subordination between individual and corporation, even if subordination is actually only one of the Shenavai /Holterman criteria.

Erik Sinander has already noted here (his post came in as I was writing up mine) that this is a different emphasis from the AG: he had suggested a third party who was directly benefitting from the work performed by the employee (“un intérêt direct à la bonne exécution dudit contrat”) should be considered an employer. That to my mind is way too large a criterion and the CJEU is right to stick to the earlier ones.

[35] the CJEU suggests relevant circumstances in the case most probably confirming the relationship of subordination hence of employment: the activities which FD carried out for his two respective employers stayed the same, and the construction via the  SPV would not have been entered into by FD had it not been for his original employer’s guarantee.

The forum laboris in the case at issue is then I assume (it is not discussed quite so clearly in the judgment) determined by the place of habitual performance of the activities for the third party, the formal (now insolvent) employer, not the activities carried out for the issuer of the letter of comfort: for there are (no longer) such activities.

[37] ff the Court entirely correctly holds that more protective national rules cannot trump Brussels Ia’s jurisdictional provisions for the  protected categories: both clear statutory language and statutory purpose support that  conclusion.

[52] ff the CJEU entertains the subsidiary issue raised in the national proceedings as to whether the contract may be considered a consumer contract. It holds that the concept of ‘a purpose outside (a natural person’s) trade or profession’ does not just apply to a natural person in a self-employed capacity but may also apply to an employee. [56] seeing as FD would not have signed the new employment agreement without the letter of comfort, the employment agreement cannot be considered to be outside FD’s profession. Therefore it cannot qualify as a consumer contract.

Geert.

 

 

Maceió victims v Braskem. Rotterdam court refuses application for Article 34 lis pendens stay.

The (first instance) court at Rotterdam has upheld anchor jurisdiction and refused an application for an Article 34 Brussels Ia stay. The case concerns victims of earthquakes in the Brasilian Maceió region, which they argue are caused by the mining activities of Braskem. The judgment is only available in Dutch.

The Dutch anchor defendants are intra-group suppliers of ia specialty chemicals, and finance. The main target of the claim of course is the Brasilian mother holding. Whether the latter can be brought into the proceedings is not subject to Brussels Ia but rather to Dutch residual rules. However just as in e.g. Shell, the Dutch rules are applied with CJEU authority on Article 8(1) Brussels Ia firmly in mind. In much more succinct terms than the English courts in similar proceedings, the Dutch courts [6.16] finds the cases so ‘closely related’ that it is expedient to hear the cases together. It emphasises that while the respective roles and liabilities of the various undertakings concerned is likely to be very different, there is a bundle of legal and factual questions that runs jointly throughout the various claims. [6.18] it emphasises that the decision to base the European headquarters of the group, and the finance activities at Rotterdam, implies that the concern reasonably could have foreseen it would be sued here.

Equally succinctly [6.19 ff] the Court rejects the argument that the use of the Dutch corporations as anchor defendants is an abuse of process. Such abuse must be narrowly construed and  it is far from obvious that the claim against the anchors is entirely without merit.

Seemingly defendants tried to argue forum non conveniens however [6.23] the court points out such construction does not exist in The Netherlands and obiter it adds (like the Court of Appeal in Municipio) that practical complications in either hearing of the case or enforcement of any judgment are not a reason to dismiss jurisdiction.

Request for a stay in the procedures viz the Brasilian corporations [6.26] is rejected on (Dutch CPR) lis pendens rules for the parties in the proceedings are not the same. Article 34 is dealt with in two paras (quite a contrast with the E&W courts). The pending procedures vis-a-vis Article 34 are not, it seems, Brasilian Civil Public Actions – CPAS (these were at issue in Municipio de Mariana (of some interest is that the law firm behind the claims is the same in both cases)). Rather, pending liquidation proceedings are considered as the relevant assessment points. [6.28] obiter the court finds that the cases are most probably not related. It grounds  its decision however on a stay not being in the interest of the sound administration of justice. The court holds that the Brasilian proceedings are not likely to be concluded within a reasonable time. Defendants’ commitment at hearing to speed up the process in Brasil, are met with disbelief by the court given the defendants’ attitude in the Brasilian procedures hitherto.

[6.32] permission to appeal the interim judgment on jurisdiction is denied. This means that, like in Airbus, discussion on the private international law issues is likely only to resurface at the stage of appealing the judgment on the merits, too.

An important judgment: other than Petrobas, there are to my knowledge no continental judgments discussing Article 34 in this intensity (there are E&W judgments, as readers of the blog will know).

Geert.

See also ‘Dude, where’s my EU court? On the application of Articles 33-34 Brussels Ia’s forum non conveniens- light rules’, Journal of Private International Law, forthcoming 2022.

 

QBE Europe v Generali. Move over, West Tankers!

Update 16 September 2022 see Francisco Quintay, mine and others’ pondering on the enforcement implications, here and here. I agree the position of EU-based parties faced with an ASI, is interesting. Ignoring an ASI leads to a contempt judgment, infringement of which is a criminal offence. Unlike Francisco I am not convinced that enforcement of a contempt order would fail under ordre public in the EU.

QBE Europe SA/NV v Generali Espana De Seguros Y Reaseguros [2022] EWHC 2062 (Comm) is not a surprising judgment of course. I flagged it on Twitter early August and I post it here for the sake of blog completeness.

The judgment grants an urgent anti-suit injunction (ASI) to restrain proceedings brought by the Defendant (Generali) against QBE UK in Spain, and to prevent Generali from commencing similar proceedings against QBE Europe. The proceedings in Spain assert a direct claim against QBE UK under a Spanish statute, by reference to a liability insurance policy. The judgment is exactly the kind of ASI outlawed by CJEU West Tankers and will reinforce the position of London in the arbitration market.

Geert.

IRnova v FLIR. CJEU would seem casually to reject reflexivity, and confirms narrow interpretation of A24(4) BIa’s exclusive jurisdictional rule for (in casu non-EU) patents.

Lydia Lundstedt has prior review of the judgment in CJEU C-399/21 IRnova AB v FLIR Systems AB (who had been business partners in the past) here. Swedish courts are clearly busy referring the private international law elements of patent cases to the CJEU.

Of particular note is that a 3 judge chamber would seem to have ruled out reflexive effect as casually as if it were swatting a fly.

On 13 December 2019, IRnova brought an action before the Patent and Market Court seeking, inter alia, a declaration that it had a better right to the inventions covered by international patent applications, subsequently supplemented by European, US and Chinese patent applications deposited by FLIR in 2015 and 2016, and by US patents granted to FLIR on the basis of those latter applications. In support of that action, IRnova had stated, in essence, that those inventions had been made by one of its employees, meaning that that employee had to be regarded as their inventor or, at the very least, as their co-inventor. IRnova therefore argued that, as the inventor’s employer and thus successor in title, it had to be regarded as the owner of the inventions. However, FLIR, without having acquired those inventions or otherwise being entitled to do so, deposited the applications in its own name.

The court had dismissed jurisdiction viz the Chinese and US patent applications, and the US patents, on the ground, in essence, that it regarded the action concerning the determination of the inventor as being linked to the registration and validity of the patents, and it applied A24(4) BIa reflexively. The Appeals Court referred the issue on reflexive effect to the CJEU, in the following terms:

‘Is an action seeking a declaration of better entitlement to an invention, based on a claim of inventorship or co-inventorship according to national patent applications and patents registered in a non-Member State, covered by exclusive jurisdiction for the purposes of Article 24(4) of [the Brussels Ia Regulation]?’

however the CJEU reformulated [22-24] the case as not concerning reflexive effect at all, rather, enquiring about the scope of the A24(4) gateway.

The Court first of all [25] ff makes a point of confirming its broad reading of the ‘international’ element required to trigger European private international law, referring to CJEU Owusu.

It then [35] would seem to rule out reflexivity in a very matter of factly way (and as Lydia also noted, without AG Opinion) and despite as noted having earlier reformulated the question away from reflexivity:

as has already been pointed out in paragraph 26 of the present judgment, the patent applications at issue in the main proceedings were deposited and the patents concerned were granted not in a Member State, but in third countries, namely the United States and China. As Article 24(4) of the Brussels Ia Regulation does not envisage that situation, however, that provision cannot be regarded as applicable to the main proceedings.

This may have already answered a core question in  BSH Hausgeräte v Aktiebolaget Electrolux.

[36] ff it adds (‘in any event’) reference ia to CJEU Hanssen and to the exceptional nature of A24 [39]. It holds that [42]

the main proceedings relate not to the existence of the deposit of a patent application or the grant of a patent, the validity or lapse of a patent, or indeed an alleged right of priority by reason of an earlier deposit, but to whether FLIR must be regarded as being the proprietor of the right to the inventions concerned or to a portion of them.

[47] it refers ia to the fact that fact that

an examination of the claims of the patent or patent application at issue may have to be carried out in the light of the substantive patent law of the country in which that application was deposited or that patent was granted [however it ] does not require the application of the rule of exclusive jurisdiction laid down in Article 24(4) of the Brussels Ia Regulation

The operative part of the judgment refers both to the A24(4) restrictive interpretation element and to the third countries element hence once cannot simply regard the reflexivity issue as obiter.

Much relevant and surprisingly succinct on the reflexivity issue.

Geert.

EU Private International Law, 3rd ed. 2021, 2.208 and 2.548.

BSH Hausgeräte v Electrolux. An opportunity for the CJEU to clarify reflexive effect of exclusive jurisdictional rules, and stays under Article 24(4) (intellectual property law).

I mentioned the pending case C-339/22 BSH Hausgeräte v Aktiebolaget Electrolux yesterday at our excellent (if I say so myself) Max Planck Institute – EAPIL – KU Leuven workshop on Brussels Ia reform. Questions referred, are

Is Article 24(4) [BIA] to be interpreted as meaning that the expression ‘proceedings concerned with the registration or validity of patents … irrespective of whether the issue is raised by way of an action or as a defence’ implies that a national court, which, pursuant to Article 4(1) of that regulation, has declared that it has jurisdiction to hear a patent infringement dispute, no longer has jurisdiction to consider the issue of infringement if a defence is raised that alleges that the patent at issue is invalid, or is the provision to be interpreted as meaning that the national court only lacks jurisdiction to hear the defence of invalidity?

Is the answer to Question 1 affected by whether national law contains provisions, similar to those laid down in the second subparagraph of Paragraph 61 of the [Swedish] Patentlagen (Patents Law), which means that, for a defence of invalidity raised in an infringement case to be heard, the defendant must bring a separate action for a declaration of invalidity?

Is Article 24(4) [BIa] to be interpreted as being applicable to a court of a third country, that is to say, in the present case, as also conferring exclusive jurisdiction on a court in Turkey in respect of the part of the European patent which has been validated there?

BSH hold a European patent relating to a vacuum cleaner. The patent has been validated in Austria, Germany, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Turkey. Electrolux of Sweden has subsidiaries in a number of other Member States, such as Germany. A number of disputes have arisen between BSH and companies in the Electrolux group concerning the patent in question. Inter alia, the European patent validated in Germany was invalidated in 2020 by a German court at the request of a subsidiary of Electrolux. That judgment has been appealed.

On 3 February 2020, BSH brought an action against Electrolux before the Patents and Market Court in Sweden and claimed inter alia that Electrolux should be prohibited from using the patented invention in all the abovementioned States and ordered to pay reasonable compensation for the unlawful use. BSH also claimed compensation for the additional damage caused by Electrolux’s alleged patent infringement. Electrolux argue that the Court should dismiss the action in relation to the foreign parts of the patents. In its view the foreign patents are invalid and the Swedish court therefore lacks jurisdiction to hear infringement actions concerning those patents.

End of December 2020 the court agreed, citing A24(4) viz the EU patents (the claim being issued prior to Brexit implementation day, this includes the UK) and ‘an internationally accepted principle of jurisdiction’ (in essence, the Moçambique rule) viz the Turkish patent.

BSH of course appeal.

A asked students in the August resit exams how they think the CJEU should answer. On Q1 I would expect them to cite the need to interpret A24 restrictively, with reference to one or two cases confirming same (there are plenty); and the lack of solution in the Brussels Recast. Contrary to what Electrolux contend, a proposal to allow a court to merely stay the case pending the foreign court’s decision on validity, was never rejected. Such a proposal was never made. BIa merely confirmed CJEU Gat v Luk’s holding that exclusive jurisdiction kicks in regardless of whether the argument of invalidity is introduced as a claim of by way of defence.

On Q2 I would like to seem them argue something to the effect that national CPR must not infringe the effet utile of BIa. (Only) if the effect of the Swedish rules is that it requires the defendant to initiate IPR invalidity claims in all the relevant States, or lose its possibility of an invalidity defence, this would in my view run counter BIa’s intention and scope.

Finally, on the 3rd Q they should engage with the lack of BIa clarification on reflexive effect, other than in the strict confines of A33-34 and its related recitals. Relevant case-law of course includes Ferrexpo and Central Santa Lucia L.C. v. Meliá Hotels International S.A. Interested readers may wish to consult Alexander Layton KC’s most excellent paper on same. Some students may refer to the UPC developments and the jurisdictional consequences in Article 71 BIa (operational 2023?).

Geert.

G I Globinvestment. A jurisdiction finding with core shortfalls on Brussels Ia.

In G I Globinvestment Ltd & Ors v VP Fund Solutions (Luxembourg) SA & Ors [2022] EWHC 1872 (Comm) wealthy Italian investors seek to recover losses which they suffered when investments they had made plummeted in value at the outset of the COVID pandemic. Defendants are in various jurisdictions. Most have accepted jurisdiction, two of them, one based in Luxembourg, the other in Liechtenstein, challenge jurisdiction.

The claim against the Liechtenstein defendant is subject to common law rules, the country not being a party to Lugano. I will leave that further undiscussed here, suffice to say the challenge was unsuccessful.

The claim against the Luxembourg based defendant was issued before Brexit implementation date and subject to Brussels Ia. It claims there is an A25 exclusive choice of court clause in the investment fund’s general subscription terms, and Vineall DJ discusses it with reference to the general A25 outline in PIFSS v Piqtet.

Parties are agreed [64] – wrongly, nota bene, that on formal validity, the question is whether there has been an actual consensus between the parties, clearly and precisely demonstrated, and on material validity, the question is whether the dispute between the parties arose or originated from the particular legal relationship in connection with which the clause was concluded. That is the kind of agreement which would see my students fail a Brussels Ia question.

[65] a further major error is made with the parties seemingly agreeing that ‘whether the claim falls within the scope of the [clause], that question is to be answered according to Luxembourg law’.

The conclusions are [88] that there is no [forum clause] in the in the Subscription Agreement, although there is choice of law clause; 88.2. There is no EJC in the Offering Document; The Offering Document wrongly asserts that there is a jurisdiction clause in the Subscription Agreement; That is insufficient to establish a clearly and precisely demonstrated consensus; no consensus as to jurisdiction is demonstrated: the result of the conflicting documents is a muddle; therefore there is no exclusive jurisdiction clause on which VP Lux can rely.

I have not got the kind of access to the file to say the outcome is factually wrong – the route to it certainly is and simply wrong in law.

The judge also [89] concludes that whether one of the claimants is a consumer who can sue in England and Wales need not be decided:  ‘That issue does not seem to me to be entirely straightforward and since it is not necessary to resolve it in the light of my conclusions about [choice of court] I prefer not to decide it’: why not?: VP Lux contest jurisdiction and it is the judge’s task under Brussels Ia to assess the existence of jurisdiction on any of the Brussels Ia grounds.

Had the judgment been issued in exam season it would have been obvious material for ‘spot the Brussels Ia errors’.

Geert.

 

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