Posts Tagged exclusive jurisdiction

Eli Lilly v Genentech: When does a patent infringement case turn into questions of validity? – and its impact on cost findings.

I explained the issue in [2017] EWHC 3104 (Pat) Eli Lily v Genentech in my posting on Chugai v UCB. A defendant in a patent infringement case often tries to make the case that the suit is about patent infringement really: for this obliges the court per GAT v Luk to refer (only the) invalidity issue to the court with exclusive jurisdiction under Article 24(4) Brussels I Recast.

Here, Eli Lily seek a declaration of non infringement of a bundle of European patents held by Genentech, a US-incorporated firm.

Birss J in the case summarises all relevant precedent, including Chugai, to reach the conclusion that the suit can stay in the UK.

Of note is his holding on costs. The English courts do not just review whether the case is currently about validity but also what the likelihood is that it will become one on validity. For if it does later on, Birss J suggests ‘this entire exercise will have been something of a charade‘ (at 84). (Which is not quite the case: even if the validity issue needs to be temporarily outsourced to different courts, the infringement issue may later return to the courts of England).

On this point, Eli Lilly refuse to disclose whether they may seek a ruling on the validity of the patents: they would rather wait to see Genentech’s defence. Not an unacceptable position, but one, High Court does warn, which will have an impact on costs. At 87: ‘I am satisfied that these unusual circumstances mean that it would not be fair to pre-empt what each party may decide to do. There are sufficient uncertainties that the right thing to do is wait and see what happens. However in my firm but necessarily provisional view that wait should be at Lilly’s risk as to costs. If Genentech does counterclaim for infringement, and validity of the non-UK patents is put in issue (here or abroad) in response, then it is very likely that Lilly should bear the whole costs of this application even if they win it in its form today.

That latter point is interesting. It’s twice now this week that judgments come to my attention where jurisdictional considerations are clothed in costs implications.

Geert.

(Handbook of ) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.7.

 

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Wathelet AG in Dědouch: Interpretation of the exlusive jurisdictional rule for corporate issues in the case of squeeze-out.

This is effectively my second posting today on Article 24(2) Brussels I Recast.

In C-560/16 Dědouch, Wathelet AG Opined last week, on the scope of the exclusive jurisdictional rule of (now) Article 24(2) of Regulation 1215/2012. The issue arose in proceedings between Michael Dědouch et al, a group of minority shareholders on the one hand, and Jihočeská plynárenská a.s. (established in the Czech Republic) and E.ON Czech Holding AG (‘E.ON’) [established in Germany] on  the other, concerning the reasonableness of the sum which, in a procedure for removing minority shareholders (‘squeeze-out’), E.ON was required to pay Mr Dědouch et al following the compulsory transfer of their shares in Jihočeská plynárenská.

Mr Dědouch et al are suing both companies and are asking the Regional Court, České Budějovice, Czech Republic to review the reasonableness of the sum. In those proceedings E.ON raised an objection that the Czech courts lacked jurisdiction. E.ON argue that, in view of the location of its seat /domicile, only the German courts had international jurisdiction per (now) Article 4.

The regional court initially accepted jurisdiction on the basis of (now) Article 8(1): the anchor defendant mechanism (one of the two defendant companies being a Czech company). Eventually the High Court, Prague found that the Czech courts had jurisdiction under (old) Article 5(1)(a) of the Brussels I Regulation: the special jurisdictional rules for contracts.

Wathelet AG suggests the case raises the complex issue of litigation in intra-company disputes. At 21 he writes that the facts highlight a structural problem in the Regulation, namely ‘the absence of a basis of jurisdiction dedicated to the resolution of internal disputes within companies, such as disputes between shareholders or between shareholders and directors or between the company and its directors.’ That is not quite correct: it is not because the Regulation has no tailor-made regime for this type of dispute that is has no jurisdictional basis for it. That a subject-matter is not verbatim included in the Regulation does not mean it is not regulated by it.

The AG then (at 23) considers that the issue under consideration is complicated by the difficulty of applying (now) Articles 7(1) and (2), ‘since the removal of the minority shareholders and the consideration decided by a resolution of the general meeting are neither a contract nor a tort, delict or quasi-delict.’ I am not so sure. Is there no ‘obligation freely assumed’ between minority and other shareholders of the same company? Are they not bound by some kind of ‘contract’ (in the broad, Jakob Handte sense) when becoming shareholders of one and the same company? That (at 24) ‘The principle of a procedure for squeezing out the minority shareholders is that the principal shareholder can start it without their consent‘ I do not find convincing in this respect. Plenty of contractual arrangements do not limit contracting parties’ freedom to act: except, their actions may have contractual consequences. The AG in my view focuses too much on the squeeze out being one-sided. An alternative view may see a wrongful deployment of squeeze-out a breach of an earlier contractual, indeed fiduciary duty between /among shareholders.

Unlike the AG (at 26), neither do I see great obstacle in the difficulty in determination of a specific place of performance of such contractual duties between shareholders in the company law context. They may not fit within the default categories of Article 7(1), however I can see many a national judge not finding it impossible to determine a place of performance.

On the basis of these perceived difficulties the AG dismisses application of Articles 7(1) and (2) and then considers, and rejects, a strict application of Article 24(2). In other words in the AG’s view Article 24(2) is engaged here.

This is a tricky call. Justified reference is made by the AG to C‑372/07 Hassett, in which (then) Article 22(2) was held no to apply to a decision made by the Board of the Health Organisation not to indemnify two of their members in cases of medical negligence: this was found by the CJEU to be an action relating to the way in which a company organ exercises its functions – not covered by Article 24(2). In Dědouch, the action relates to the amount which the General Meeting of the company fixed as the compensation E.ON was required to pay the minority shareholders following the transfer of the shares. Notwithstanding Czech company law being the lex causae in assisting the GM in that decision, I am not convinced this engages Article 24(2) (hence reserving jurisdiction to the Czech courts).

In summary, I believe the Court should reject application of Article 24(2), and instruct the national courts to get on with the determination of jurisdiction per Article 7, or indeed 8.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.5, Heading 2.2.11.1, Heading 2.2.12.1.

 

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Dennis v Tag Group: Speak up, counsel! when contesting injunctions. (And article 24’s jurisdictional rules apply regardless of the domicile of parties).

I reported on submission to jurisdiction in the English legal context in re Golden Endurance, and on the issue of the application of (now) Brussel I Recast’s Article 24’s exclusive jurisdictional rules in Dal Al Arkan. In Dennis v TAG Group [2017] EWHC 919 (Ch) the High Court first of all revisits the issue of submission to jurisdiction in the context of injunction proceedings, and also held that permission for service out of jurisdiction is not required since the (now) Article 24 rules apply regardless of domicile of the parties. Clyde & Co have summary of the facts here.

Mr Dennis was the CEO of the England and Wales incorporated McLaren Technology Group Ltd. He claims he has suffered unfair prejudice as a result of suggested Board resolutions to be passed (and now passed) and relies on purported breaches of the Companies Act 2006, articles of association, shareholder agreement and service agreement to support his petition: this arguably engages Article 24(2) of the Brussels I Recast.

Application for injunctive relief sought to restrain Respondents from placing Plaintiff on garden leave and delegating the authority of the board to an interim committee. At issue first is whether Respondents’ engagement with the injunctive proceedings amounted to submission of jurisdiction. Briggs CR held that it so did: language in isolated correspondence reserving rights as to jurisdiction amounts to nothing if parties keep schtum about it when it really matters: at the injunctive hearings and forms relating to same.

Briggs held that even in the alternative, had there not been submission, Article 24 (I assume what is meant is Article 24(2) given the subject of the claim) applies regardless of the domicile of the parties hence submission is irrelevant (and indeed permission for service out of jurisdiction not required  – one assumed to the (insurance) relief of Respindents’ counsel. On that point Dal Arkan had already been confirmed Deutsche Bank AG v Sebastian Holdings Inc & Alexander Vik [2017] EWHC 459 .

A good and attractively concise ruling.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.

 

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Koza v Akcil: The Court of Appeal on exclusive jurisdiction for company matters.

Thank you Angharad Parry for flagging  [2017] EWCA Civ 1609 Koza v Akcil – Angharad has excellent factual background. The case concerns the application of Article 24(2) of the Brussels I Recast Regulation, which assigns exclusive jurisdiction to the Courts of the Member State of the seat in matters relating to the life and death of companies and of the validity of decisions made by their organs:

in proceedings which have as their object the validity of the constitution, the nullity or the dissolution of companies or other legal persons or associations of natural or legal persons, or of the validity of the decisions of their organs, the courts of the Member State in which the company, legal person or association has its seat. In order to determine that seat, the court shall apply its rules of private international law;

Referring particularly to C-144/10 BVG and to C-372/07 Hassett, the Court of Appeal at 28 correctly suggests Article 24’s exclusive jurisdictional rules need to be interpreted with their limited purpose in mind: ‘when article 24(2) speaks of proceedings having an “object” it is not referring to the purpose of the proceedings. Rather that phrase is to be interpreted as “proceedings which are principally concerned with” one of the types of subject matter within the article.’ At 37: ‘The task for the court in each case is therefore to determine whether the proceedings relate principally to the validity of the decisions of an organ of the company. A mere link to a decision of the company, or an issue raised which is ancillary to the heart of a contractual or some other dispute, is insufficient to bring the proceedings within the exclusive jurisdiction.’

Floyd LJ at 46 summarises the direction for courts: ‘I do not take from the English or European authorities which were cited to us any suggestion that one is required in all cases to disentangle issues which are interlinked in this way and apply Article 24(2) to each issue separately. On the contrary, faced with such proceedings, the court is required to form an overall evaluative judgment as to what the proceedings are principally concerned with. The position is obviously different from a case where two quite independent claims are made in the same proceedings. Exclusive jurisdiction in relation to each claim would, in those circumstances, have to be determined separately.’ In the case at hand the case was found overall and fundamentally to concern one and the same issue of the validity of decisions of the organs of the company

Consequently the issue is one of looking beyond the particulars of form and into the true nature of the proceedings. Not a decision always made with ease.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading

 

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Hanssen: CJEU confirms narrow reading of exclusive jurisdictional rules.

The precise application of the Brussels I Recast’s exclusive jurisdictional rules, remains a balancing exercise. Being an exception to the Regulation’s’ overall preference for the domicile of the defendant, they have to be given a narrow reading. On the other hand, they serve what the Regulation sees as being important purposes of preference of one particular jurisdiction over another, hence the exception cannot be so narrowly construed as to lose purpose. In C-341/16 Hanssen, the CJEU held last week and confirmed Saugmansgaard ØE AG’s Opinion of the summer.

Does an action seeking an order requiring the person formally registered as proprietor of a Benelux mark to make a declaration to the OBPI that she has no entitlement to the mark and that she waives registration as the proprietor of that mark, fall within the scope of Article 24(4) of Brussels I Recast? No, it does not:  the main proceedings in this case do not relate to the validity, existence or lapse of the trade mark or an alleged right of priority by reason of an earlier deposit. They are solely concerned with whether the proprietor of the contested mark is Ms Prast-Knipping or Hanssen Beleggingen, which must be determined on the basis of the legal relationship existing between the parties concerned: Hanssen Beleggingen submits that, as a result of a chain of transfers of the contested mark, it has become the actual proprietor of the rights to the contested mark. Existence etc. of the trademark is not at issue.

The question of the individual estate to which an intellectual property right belongs is not, generally, closely linked in fact and law to the place where that right has been registered (at 37): hence the raison d’être of Article 24(4) is not engaged.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6, Heading 2.2.6.7

 

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Chugai v UCB: When does one litigate not just the scope but also the validity of a patent?

End of exam season (sadly not yet of marking marathon). In the next few weeks I shall be posting on judgments issued a little or longer while ago, which I was pondering to use in exams. (I did for some of them).

In [2017] EWHC 1216 (Pat) Chugai Pharmaceutical v UCB the issue at stake was to what degree a suit seeking to establish absence of liability under a patent license, in reality provokes argument on the validity of the patent. Carr J has excellent review of precedent, much of which has passed in one way or another on this blog. Please do refer to judgment for proper reading.

Claimant (“Chugai”) seeks a declaration against the Defendants (collectively “UCB”) that it is not obliged to continue to pay royalties under a patent licence (“the Licence”) granted by the First Defendant (“UCB Pharma”).  UCB Pharma is a Belgian company with an English branch which entered into the Licence with Chugai in respect of a portfolio of patents. Chugai claims that its products, which are, in part, manufactured and sold in the USA, fall outside the scope of the claims of the Patent concerned. Accordingly, Chugai seeks a declaration that it owes no royalties for the manufacture and sale of these drugs manufactured after a certain date.

UCB alleges that, although framed as a claim for a declaration relating to a contract, a part of these proceedings, in substance, concerns not only the scope but also the validity of the Patent. UCB submits that the validity of a US patent is non-justiciable, since the English court has no power to determine the validity of a foreign patent. Accordingly, it submits that those parts of Chugai’s pleading which are said to raise issues of invalidity fall outside the subject matter jurisdiction of the English court.

European private international law as readers will know lays greats emphasis on exclusive jurisdiction in the case of validity of patents. The CJEU’s holding in C-4/03 Gat v Luk that nullity actions against a national part of a certain European patent can only be conducted in the jurisdiction for which that patent was registered, regardless of whether the nullity argument is raised in the suit or by way of defence, is now included verbatim in Article 24(4) Brussels I Recast. The EU’s take is rooted in the idea that the grant of a national patent is “an exercise of national sovereignty” (Jenard Report on the Brussels Convention (OJ 1979 C59, pp 1, 36)). The rule therefore engages the Act of State doctrine, and suggests that comity requires the courts of States other than the State of issue, to keep their hands off the case.

Particularly in cases where defendant is accused of having infringed a patent, this rule gives it a great possibility to stall proceedings. Where the action is ‘passive’, with plaintiff aiming to establish no infringement, the argument that the suit really involves validity of patent is less easily made.

The possibility of ‘torpedo’ abuse, coupled with less deference to the jurisdictional consequences of the Act of State doctrine [particularly its contested extension to intellectual property rights], means the English courts in particular are becoming less impressed with the exclusivity. (Albeit Carr J on balance decides per curiam (at 73-74) that direct challenges to the validity of foreign patents should not be justiciable in the English courts). Where the EU Regulation applies, they do not have much choice. Carr J refers to [2016] EWHC 1722 (Pat) Anan where claimant sought to carve out issues of validity by seeking a declaration that the defendant’s acts infringed a German patent “if the German designation is invalid (which is to be determined by the German courts)“.  EU law meant this attempt could not be honoured. Carr J however suggests that EU rules have no direct application in the present case because the Patent at stake is a United States patent. That is spot on, on the facts of the case: choice of court having been made in favour of the English courts, the case does not fall under the amended lis alibi pendens rule of the Brussels I Recast. In Article 33 juncto recital 24, reflexive effect is suggested for the Regulation’s exclusive jurisdictional rules, leaving a Member State court in a position (not: under an obligation) to give way to pending litigation in third countries, if its own jurisdiction is based on a non-exlusive jurisdictional rule (Articles 4, 7, 8 or 9) and not within the context of the protected categories.

Allow me to lean on 20 Essex Street’s conclusion in their review of the case: Carr J held that the case before him was not a direct challenge to validity. He accepted Chugai’s submissions that its claim was contractual. Disputed parts of the patent were incidental to the essential nature of its claim, which was a claim for determination of its royalty obligations. In his view, this claim fell within the exclusive jurisdiction clause, in favour of the English courts, which parties had agreed.

Essential reading for IP litigators.

Geert.

 

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The lady is not for turning. CJEU sticks to classic application of exclusive jurisdictional rule for rights in rem in immovable property.

In Case C-605/14, Komu v Komu, the CJEU stuck to its classic application of the rule of Article 22(1) Brussels I (now Article 24(1) Brussels Recast). This Article prescribes exclusive jurisdiction for (among others) proceedings which have as their object rights in rem in immovable property. Article 25 (now 27) adds that where a court of a Member State is seised of a claim which is principally concerned with a matter over which the courts of another Member State have exclusive jurisdiction by virtue of Article 22, it shall declare of its own motion that it has no jurisdiction. (emphasis added).

Mr Pekka Komu, Ms Jelena Komu, Ms Ritva Komu, Ms Virpi Komu and Ms Hanna Ruotsalainen are domiciled in Finland and are co-owners of a house situated in Torrevieja (Spain), the first three each with a 25% share and the other two each with a 12.5% share. In addition, Ms Ritva Komu has a right of use, registered in the Spanish Land Register, over the shares held by Ms Virpi Komu and Ms Hanna Ruotsalainen.Wishing to realise the interests that they hold in both properties, and in the absence of agreement on the termination of the relationship of co-ownership, Ms Ritva Komu, Ms Virpi Komu and Ms Ruotsalainen brought an action before the District Court, South Savo, Finland for an order appointing a lawyer to sell the properties and fixing a minimum price for each of the properties. The courts obliged in first instance and queried the extent of Article 22’s rule in appeal.

Co-ownership and rights of use, one assumes, result from an inheritance.

The CJEU calls upon classic case-law, including most recently Weber. At 30 ff it recalls the ‘considerations of sound administration of justice which underlie the first paragraph of Article 22(1) …’ and ‘also support such exclusive jurisdiction in the case of an action intended to terminate the co-ownership of immovable property, as that in the main proceedings.’:

The transfer of the right of ownership in the properties at issue in the main proceedings will entail the taking into account of situations of fact and law relating to the linking factor as laid down in the first paragraph of Article 22(1) of Regulation No 44/2001, namely the place where those properties are situated. The same applies, in particular, to the fact that the rights of ownership in the properties and the rights of use encumbering those rights are the subject of entries in the Spanish Land Register in accordance with Spanish law, the fact that rules governing the sale, by auction where appropriate, of those properties are those of the Member State in which they are situated, and the fact that, in the case of disagreement, the obtaining of evidence will be facilitated by proximity to the locus rei sitae. The Court has already held that disputes concerning rights in rem in immovable property, in particular, must generally be decided by applying the rules of the State in which the property is situated, and the disputes which frequently arise require checks, inquiries and expert assessments which have to be carried out there.

A sound finding given precedent. However I continue to think it questionable whether these reasons, solid as they may have been in 1968, make much sense in current society. It may be more comfortable to have the case heard in Spain for the reasons set out by the Court. But essential? Humankind can perform transcontinental robot-assisted remote telesurgery. But it cannot, it seems, consult the Spanish land registry from a court in Finland. I would suggest it is time to adapt Article 24 in a future amendment of the Regulation.

Geert.

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