Posts Tagged Intellectual property

More on intellectual property jurisdiction. Community designs in BMW v Acacia.

C-433/16 BMW v Acacia follows a similar pattern as yesterday’s post on the Trademark Regulation. In Community designs, too, intellectual-property specific secondary law varies the overall jurisdictional regime of Brussels I (Recast), here: Regulation 6/2002 on Community designs. Reference is best made to the judgment itself for readers to appreciate how exactly the general regime is part-incorporated.

In general, the jurisdictional rule for Community designs incorporates less of the general regime of the Brussels I (Recast) than its Trademark Regulation. (Current) Article 24(4)’s exclusive jurisdictional rule for instance is made inapplicable for designs. So too is (now) Article 7(2)’s rule on tort.

Acacia brought a proactive action against BMW before the Tribunale di Napoli (District Court of Naples (Italy)) seeking a declaration of non-infringement of Community designs, of which BMW is the proprietor, for alloy rims for automobile wheels, as well as a declaration of abuse of a dominant market position and unfair competition by BMW. The action clearly anticipated counter action by BMW. Acacia also sought an injunction to prevent BMW from taking any action hindering the marketing of the replica rims. (Of note generally is that not all Member States allow for actions in non-infringement. See here for a review of the implications of same).

Regulation 6/2002 however provides that actions for declaration of non-infringement (Article 81(b) of that regulation) may be brought, where the defendant is domiciled in an EU Member State, before the Community design courts of that Member State alone. These courts are specifically assigned by the Member States. Article 7(2)’s rule on tort as noted does not apply and the CJEU does not take long to hold exactly that. Declaration of abuse of a dominant position and of unfair competition that are connected to actions for declaration of non-infringement of Community design, likewise cannot be based on Article 7(2) Brussels I Recast.

A declaration of non-infringement under Article 81(b) of the Community design Regulation must, when the defendant is domiciled in an EU Member State, be brought before the Community design courts of that Member State, except where there is choice of court or voluntary appearance (Article 25 cq 26 of the Recast), or within the rules of lis pendens and related actions. As for Article 26, voluntary appearance cannot be deduced from the fact that the defendant appears to contest jurisdiction, even if at the same time they also argue to the merits: this is held again by the CJEU in line with earlier case-law.

The Court’s judgment is neither shocking nor surprising. It is good however to be reminded of the jurisdictional rules on intellectual property.

Geert.

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‘Establishment’, jurisdiction and the EU Trademark Regulation: Hummel v Nike.

Jurisdiction in intellectual property cases is notoriously complex and frankly opaque, in the case of the EU exacerbated by the impact of secondary law. My colleague Marie-Christine Janssens has a great overview in the Belgian reports at the Congress of Washington of the International Academy of Comparative Law. Brussels: Bruylant, 611-652.

At stake in C-617/15 Hummel v Nike was Regulation 207/2009, in the meantime superseded by Regulation 2015/2424.  Article 94 of the former, entitled ‘Application of Regulation … No 44/2001’, contains rules on jurisdiction and procedure in legal actions relating to EU trade marks. It states that ‘Unless otherwise specified in this Regulation, Regulation … No 44/2001 shall apply to proceedings relating to [EU] trade marks and applications for [EU] trade marks, as well as to proceedings relating to simultaneous and successive actions on the basis of [EU] trade marks and national trade marks.’ Article 94 essentially varies, to some degree, the jurisdictional rules of the Brussels I (now Recast) Regulation.

Now, what needed specific interpretation was Article 97’s

‘1.      Subject to the provisions of this Regulation as well as to any provisions of Regulation … No 44/2001 applicable by virtue of Article 94, proceedings in respect of the actions and claims referred to in Article 96 shall be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the defendant is domiciled or, if he is not domiciled in any of the Member States, in which he has an establishment. 

2.       If the defendant is neither domiciled nor has an establishment in any of the Member States, such proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the plaintiff is domiciled or, if he is not domiciled in any of the Member States, in which he has an establishment.

3.      If neither the defendant nor the plaintiff is so domiciled or has such an establishment, such proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State where [EUIPO] has its seat.

More specifically, the notion of ‘establishment’: Under which circumstances is a legally distinct second-tier subsidiary, with its seat in an EU Member State, of an undertaking that itself has no seat in the EU to be considered as an “establishment” of that undertaking.

Nike, which has its seat in the US, is the ultimate holding company of the Nike Group, which sells sports goods across the world. Nike Retail, which has its seat in the Netherlands, also belongs to that group. Nike Retail operates the website on which Nike goods are advertised and offered for sale, in Germany in particular. In addition to online sales on that website, Nike goods are sold in Germany through independent dealers supplied by Nike Retail. Wholesale or retail sales in Germany are not directly conducted by the companies in the Nike Group.

Nike Deutschland GmbH, which has its seat in Frankfurt am Main and is not a party to the main proceedings, is a subsidiary of Nike Retail. Nike Deutschland does not have its own website and does not sell goods to end consumers or intermediaries. However, it negotiates contracts between intermediaries and Nike Retail, and supports Nike Retail in connection with advertising and the performance of contracts. Nike Deutschland also provides aftersales service for end consumers.  Hummel Holding claims that some Nike products, in particular basketball shorts, infringe its trade mark and that most of the infringements took place in Germany. It brought an action against Nike and Nike Retail before the Landgericht Düsseldorf (Regional Court, Düsseldorf, Germany), which ruled that it had jurisdiction on the ground that Nike Deutschland was an establishment of Nike, but dismissed the action on the merits. This judgment is now being appealed.

The CJEU first of all (at 22 ff) warns for caution in the conjoined application of concepts used in both the Trademark Regulation and the Brussels I (Recast). The Trademark Regulation is, so the Court says specifically, lex specialis and one cannot therefore assume the same words mean the same thing. Readers of this blog are aware that I always give the CJEU thumbs-up when it mentions this (such as in Kainz), however the Court itself very regularly ignores its own instruction when the discussion involves the application of Brussels and Rome.

The point of Article 97, the Court notes (at 37) is to ensure that a court within the EU always has jurisdiction to hear and determine cases concerning the infringement and validity of an EU trade mark. In line with the AG’s suggestion the Court consequently opts for a broad interpretation of the concept, holding that the concept requires (1) a certain real and stable presence, from which commercial activity is pursued, as manifested by the presence of personnel and material equipment. (2) In addition, that establishment must have the appearance of permanency to the outside world, such as the extension of a parent body. However what is not required is for that establishment to have legal personality. Third parties must thus be able to rely on the appearance created by an establishment acting as an extension of the parent body. Furthermore and importantly, it is, in principle, irrelevant for the purposes of Article 97(1) of Regulation No 207/2009 whether the establishment thereby determined has participated in the alleged infringement.

A word of warning evidently: given the Court’s emphasis on the context of Article 97, with a view to its wide application, readers must not be tempted to read the judgment’s view on the concept of ‘establishment’ as applying across the board in EU conflicts law, let alone EU law as a whole.

Geert.

 

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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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No need to feel stunned. The CJEU in Taser.

When my tweets on the CJEU are not followed quickly by a blog post, assume I got snowed under. Or that other developments require more immediate analysis. Taser, Case C-175/15, is easily dismissed perhaps as not all that stunning or shocking (puns abound), yet as often, it is worthwhile highlighting what the case does not answer, rather than what it did elucidate.

Taser International, whose seat is in the United States, entered into two non-exclusive distribution agreements with Gate 4. Under those agreements, Gate 4 and its administrator, Mr Anastasiu, undertook to assign to the other contracting party the Taser International trade marks which they had registered, or for which they had applied for registration, in Romania.

Following Gate 4’s and Mr Anastasiu’s refusal to fulfil that contractual obligation, Taser International brought an action before the District Court, Bucharest. Regardless of the existence in those contracts of clauses conferring jurisdiction on a court situated in the US, Gate 4 and Mr Anastasiu entered an appearance before the Romanian court without challenging its jurisdiction. The Court ordered them to undertake all the formalities necessary for the registration of the assignment.

The appeals court seeks clarification as to whether the Brussels I Regulation is applicable to the dispute before it, since the parties elected, for the resolution of their disputes, the courts of a third country. The referring court considers that such a clause conferring jurisdiction on a third country may, for this reason alone, preclude the tacit prorogation of jurisdiction under Article 24 (Article 26 in the Brussels I Recast)

On the assumption, however, that that latter rule is applicable, the referring court seeks to ascertain whether it should, nevertheless, decline jurisdiction on another ground. It also queried whether the exclusive jurisdictional rules of Article 22 are applicable: does a dispute concerning an obligation to assign a trade mark, likely to result in a registration under national law, fall within paragraph 4 of that article.

The CJEU firstly recalled its finding in C-111/09 CPP Vienna Insurance Group: choice of court made per Article 23 (now Article 25) Brussels I, can be overruled by voluntary appearance. The latter in that case simply acts as an amended choice of court. In Taser (at 24) the court now adds that this applies also if that initial choice of court was made ex-EU. The deliberate, later choice, remains a deliberate choice. The Court makes no reference to discussions e.g.  in the context of Gothaer, whether the Brussels I Regulation at all should be concerned with choice of court ex-EU or should be entirely indifferent. Arguably, in the Recast Regulation, there is consideration for choice of court ex-EU, in particular in recital 24 combined with Article 33.

Intellectual property lawyers will be disappointed with the Court’s answer to the issue of whether trade mark assignment falls within Article 22(4) [now 24(4)]: Romanian courts in any event had jurisdiction. (at 29).

Plenty left open, therefore. Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, chapter 2, heading 2.2.6.7, heading 2.2.7 .

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Choice of court and law for the holiday season.

As the holiday season now is in full swing, here’s a choice of court and choice of law clause I received. For us all to ponder on the beaches /in the mountains /whatever retreat we’ll find ourselves on:

‘LAW AND JURISDICTION
This agreement is between the holiday-maker (the renter) and the agency or property owner. Booking ltd is acting only as a representative of the agency or owner listed on the voucher and as such can not be held directly responsible for any problems concerned with the booking. The owners of Booking LTd its employees or agents shall not be liable for any damage, loss or personal injury which may be sustained by persons or property at any time during the reserved stay. In the event of controversies arising from the booking of the rental, the Irish Court only can deal with the matter and Irish law only applies. Signing the booking form and making the booking implies that the General Letting Conditions have been understood and have thereby been accepted without reserve and without exception. If any of the conditions of this contract have become invalid or were invalid or if in this contract there should be a gap, the other conditions cannot be contested.

Any and all issues regarding the property, such as damages, injury, etc, shall be a dispute between the owner or agency and the renter of the property. In such cases, with no exceptions, Irish law will apply and the jurisdiction will be the local courts in Ireland.’

Happy holidays. Geert.

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ECJ broadly confirms Szpunar AG in Diageo: narrow window for refusal of recognition and enforcement.

As reported when Szpunar AG issued his Opinion, key question in Diageo, Case C-681/13 is whether the fact that a judgment given in the State of origin is contrary to EU law (in the case at issue; trademark law) justifies that judgment’s not being recognised in the State in which recognition is sought, on the grounds that it infringes public policy (‘ordre public’) in that Member State. Precedent for Diageo did not look good and indeed the ECJ on Thursday confirmed the views of its AG.

Where the breach concerns infringement of EU law, the ECJ formulates the test as follows: ‘the public-policy clause would apply only where that error of law means that the recognition of the judgment concerned in the State in which recognition is sought would result in the manifest breach of an essential rule of law in the EU legal order and therefore in the legal order of that Member State’ (at 50). The relevant breach of EU trademark law is simply not in that league (at 51).

The Court does (at 54) seem to suggest – although one has to infer that a contrario – that if one were to show that Member State courts deliberately infringe EU law, even if that EU law is not in the ‘essential’ category, such pattern of national precedent (imposed by the higher courts), could lead to refusal of recognition. However this was not the suggestion made in the case at issue.

Geert.

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Szpunar AG in Diageo confirms narrow window for refusal of recognition and enforcement

Key question in Diageo, Case C-681/13 is whether the fact that a judgment given in the State of origin is contrary to EU law (in the case at issue; trademark law)  justifies that judgment’s not being recognised in the State in which recognition is sought, on the grounds that it infringes public policy (‘ordre public’) in that Member State. Precedent for Diageo did not look good.

‘Public policy in the Member State in which recognition is sought’, is by its very nature a matter for the courts of that Member State to define, however the ECJ has held that the nature of the JR necessarily implies that the ECJ has to exercise a degree of control. It has held that the clause on public policy may be relied on only in exceptional cases. The possibility that the court of the State of origin erred in applying certain rules of EU law, including free movement of goods and competition law, does not qualify as such: per  Case C-126/07 Eco Swiss and Case C-38/98 Renault, that these rules concern Union as opposed to national law, does not as such have an impact on the application of the recognition and enforcement title: Union law needs to be looked at just the same as national or indeed international law.

Szpunar AG refers of course to these judgments, distinguishes them where necessary, and concludes that an error in the application of EU trademark law does not suffice to justify a refusal of recognition. All that is left to Diageo is an action in damages against Bulgaria.

Geert.

 

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