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.

Forum non and infringing copyright in the air: The Performing Rights Society v Qatar Airways.

Performing Right Society Ltd v Qatar Airways Group QCS [2020] EWHC 1872 (Ch) concerns the infringement or not of copyright via Qatar Airways’ inflight entertainment system known as “Oryx One”. Holding on an application for a stay on grounds of forum non conveniens or alternatively on case management grounds, Birss J on Friday first of all noted the relevance of Lucasfilm Limited v Ainsworth [2011] UKSC 39 that the English court can have jurisdiction over claims for infringement of copyright by non-UK acts and under non-UK law where there is a basis for in personam jurisdiction. Which there is because of the presence of the aircraft on the ground or in the territorial airspace of the UK – the airline was served at the London address of the UK branch (defendant, QATAR Airways Group Q.C.S.C. is not domiciled in the UK, I gather). Lucasfilm did not itself deal with forum non.

I flag this case for Birss J gives a good summary of the approach to forum non, building of course on Spiliada but also with reference to Vedanta, Okpabi etc., all reviewed on the blog. Note at 16-17 claimant’s and defendant’s alternative formulations of the Stage 1 cq 2 tests following Spiliada.

The defendant has summarised the test in Spiliada as follows:

“(1) Is there another available forum which is clearly and distinctly the natural forum, that is to say, the “forum with which the action has the most real and substantial connection”?

(2) If there is, is England nevertheless the appropriate forum, in particular because the court is not satisfied that substantial justice will be done in the alternative available forum?”

At: claimant’s rival formulation is:

“Stage 1: Qatar Airways bears the burden of satisfying the Court that the Qatari court is an available forum with competent jurisdiction to determine PRS’s claim and is clearly or distinctly a more appropriate forum than England for the trial of the issues. If it fails to satisfy the Court of these matters, a stay should be refused.

Stage 2: If the Court determines that the Qatari court is prima facie more appropriate, it must nevertheless refuse to grant a stay if PRS demonstrate that, in all the circumstances of the case, it would be unjust for it to be deprived of the right to trial in England.”

The distinctions may seem trivial. However they relate to, firstly, burden of proof and secondly, which factors need to be considered in which stage (and therefore, proven by whom). In particular, it is suggested that issues such as the location of witnesses arose at the first stage yet that at least aspects of the points which were debated about expert witnesses (of foreign law) arose at the second stage not the first.

Birss J ends up summarising Stage 1 as entailing the following headings:

i) the personal connections the parties have to the countries in question; ii) factual connections which the events relevant to the claim have with the countries; iii) applicable law; iv) factors affecting convenience or expense such as the location of witnesses or documents.

I will leave readers to digest the arguments under the various headings themselves, Birss J concludes that Qatar is not clearly a more appropriate forum and does not therefore consider Stage 2.

Readers will remember that the CJEU in Owusu objected to forum non on the basis of its unpredictability. Now, I am not one for arguing that following Spiliada and Vedanta, and given the authority rule to which common lawyers and judges are attuned, forum non be unpredictable. Neither can one posit however, seeing the intensity of the discussion here and in many other cases, that it is an entirely clear exercise.

Geert.

 

 

 

 

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