Posts Tagged Patents

Ablynx and VUB v Unilever. On Brussels Ia’s protection for choice of court (Article 31(2) and, again, on DNIs and exclusive jurisdiction for patents.

[2019] EWHC 792 (Pat) Ablynx and VUB v Unilver engages similar discussions as Eli Lily v enentech and Chugai v UCB with the additional element of now, under Brussels Ia, the application of Artile 31(2). This Article makes safe the torpedo previously used to gazump choice of court, by giving the courts of the States in whose favour choice of court has been concluded, a first go at discussing the validity and application of the choice of court agreement.

Here: does Article 31(2) mean that the Brussels courts, to whom jurisdiction has been assigned in a licence agreement, get to decide first on the engagement of Article 24(4)’s exclusive jurisdictional rule re the validity of patents?

It is worth quoting Hacon J in full: at 17 ff

’17. Ms Lane (for the defendants, GAVC) submitted that the position is clear: art.31(2) is engaged and therefore these proceedings must be stayed. Art.24 could never make a difference in this court because it cannot override art.31(2). That is because art.31(2) is expressly stated to be without prejudice to art.26 but not art.24. The consequence is that all issues arising in these proceedings must be ceded to the Brussels courts, including the question whether art.24(4) is engaged and if so, what should be done about it. It is not the concern of this court.

18. I disagree. To my mind art.25(4) explains why there is no mention of art.24 in art.31(2). Art.31(2) is necessarily without prejudice to art.24 since an agreement relied on for a stay under art.31(2) can carry no legal force if it purports to exclude the courts having exclusive jurisdiction under art.24. Even on the assumptions I have stated, art.31(2) cannot apply if art.24(4) is engaged. Art.24(4)’s engagement depends on whether these proceedings are ‘concerned with’ the validity of the Patents UK within the meaning of art.24(4). I must resolve this last question before I can decide whether the (assumed) agreement carries legal force and therefore whether art.31(2) is engaged.

19. I also note that art.26 is itself made subject to art.24. This reinforces my view that the recasting of Brussels I has not altered the hierarchy of provisions awarding jurisdiction, with art.24 at the top. Arts.24 and 25 both speak of ‘exclusive jurisdiction’, but that conferred by art.24 is the more exclusive.’

Having held that Article 31(2) is not engaged, the Court still has to assess whether the claim is essentially a decleration of non-infringrement or rather ‘concerns’ the validity of the patents. Defendants argue that the validity of the Patents UK would form only an incidental part of this action, since it is really a dispute about the scope of defendant’s licence.

Here, Hacon J discussed CJEU authority at length (GAT v LUK, BVG, Gasser etc.) and summarises at 53

(1) When a stay is sought under art.31(2), if an argument is raised that the court before which the stay is sought has exclusive jurisdiction under art.24, that court must decide whether the argument is correct.

(2) If the court has exclusive jurisdiction under art.24, art.31(2) is not engaged. There will be no stay.

(3) If the court does not have exclusive jurisdiction under art.24, it must decide whether at least prima facie there is an agreement which satisfies art.25 and which confers exclusive jurisdiction on courts of another Member State. If so, provided the defendant has not entered an appearance in a manner which satisfies art.26, there must be a stay of the proceedings.

EPLaw helpfully summarise the lenghty review of testimony and pleadings as follows: taking into account the usual practice in relation to patent validity proceedings in the UK, and the arguments which are typically run, the Court concluded that there was no real doubt that if the proceedings progress to trial they will be concerned with the validity of the Patents within the meaning of art.24(4). Art.24(4) was therefore engaged.

The case raises again the interesting issue of the degree to which the court may rely on parties’ submissions in particulars of claim when examining jurisdiction, or alternatively need to look beyond these stated arguments into what might and will be argued.

Leave to Appeal has been granted and a further order has already dealt with service issues.

Geert.

(Handbook of ) European Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6.7, Heading 2.2.9.5.

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Digital import suffices for jurisdiction of the US International Trade Commission in patent infringement

Update November 2015 the CA reversed the finding of jurisdiction on 10 November 2015, confining it to material items. However its judgment was not unanimous (one dissent) nor unequivocal in argument. The case is likely therefore to be continued.

Update 26 August 2015 the CA reportedly was skeptical of the jurisdictional line taken by the ITC, citing in particular enforcement challenges as well as seperation of powers: extension of jurisdiction such as in this case may have to be determined by Congress, not by a regulator.

Update 4 August 2015: the US Court of Appeals will hear arguments on the case mid August.

The US International Trade Commission has held (in re Align Technology Inc, 337-TA-833) that electronic /digital import of plans and manuals with a view to producing moulds for dental aligners (braces) suffices to give the ITC jurisdiction. As I understand the case, the companies violating Align Technology’s patents were based in Pakistan, without domestic residence of any kind in the United States. The data were then used by US-based dental practices to produce the braces.

The foreign residence of the patent infringers fed into arguments made by defendants that a cease and desist order by the ITC would be very difficult to enforce, an argument against upholding jurisdiction in the first place. The ITC was not swayed.

I understand Google, among others, argued that digital data do not qualify as ‘articles’ under relevant US law. Reminiscent to some degree of the dismissal of Google’s arguments by JÄÄSKINEN AG in  Google Spain, the ITC disagreed: digital data are very real articles as, I would argue, the massive market for digital download already amply illustrates.

Geert.

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Where are all the dead pigeons? Proposed amendment to the Brussels I-Regulation prepares the ground for the Unified Patent Court

Pre-script posted 6 June: the amending Regulation was adopted in April (and published as Regulation 542/2014). The assets rule which it includes prima facie only applies for damage taking place outside the EU resulting from non-doms’ infringement. How and whether the assets rule applies vis-a-vis damage inside the EU caused by non-doms is still not clear. You may want to read the ‘comments’ section under this posting for clarification.

 

The proposal to amend Regulation 1215/2012 is due to be adopted by the European Parliament before its election recess. It forms part of the rather complex set of arrangements to introduce the Unified Patents Court – an oxymoron indeed. Leaving aside the complex set of arrangements at the substantive law level, I just wanted to highlight one or two interesting charachteristics at the pure conflicts /jurisdiction level.

The proposed amendment has a twofold objective. Firstly, to ensure compliance between the UPC Agreement and the recast Brussels I Regulation. So far so uncontested. These revisions concern in particular the clear inclusion of the UPC (as well as the Benelux Court) within the Regulation’s definition of a ‘court’; and the revision of the (rather complex)  regime of Article 71 with respect to international agreements and their relationship with the Brussels I Regulation.

The second objective however is misleadingly represented as necessarily forming part of the UPC package: the issue of jurisdiction vis-a-vis defendants not domiciled in the EU (see inter alia here for earlier postings on non-EU domiciled defendants). The newly inserted Article 71b essentially and as a rule lets the ‘common courts’ (i.e. the UPC and the Benelux Court) usurp national jurisdiction (for those States that have subscribed to the common court – remember this is an instrument of enhanced co-operation):

1. The common court shall have jurisdiction where, under this Regulation, the courts of a Member State party to an agreement establishing a common court have jurisdiction in a matter governed by that agreement.

It then prima facie at least suggests that all jurisdictional rules of the Regulation apply regardless of third State domicile:

2. Where the defendant is not domiciled in a Member State, and this Regulation does not otherwise confer jurisdiction over him, the provisions of Chapter II shall apply as if the defendant was domiciled in a Member State. Article 35 shall apply even if the courts of non-Member States have jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter.

Chapter II includes all jurisdictional rules: including the basic rule of domicile of the defendant (the new Article 4, previously Article 2).

This prima facie conclusion is supported by the (proposed) newly inserted sentence in recital 14:

“Uniform jurisdiction rules should also apply regardless of the defendant’s domicile in cases where courts common to several Member States exercise jurisdiction in matters coming within the scope of application of this Regulation”

The newly proposed Article 71b (3) however then would seem to contradict this by stating

3. Where the defendant is not domiciled in a Member State and no court of a Member State has jurisdiction under this Regulation, the defendant may be sued in the common court if:
a) property belonging to the defendant is located in a Member State party to the agreement establishing the common court;
b) the value of the property is not insignificant compared to the value of the claim;
c) the dispute has a sufficient connection with any Member State party to the agreement establishing the common court.

Now I am getting very confused: if, per Article 71b (2), jurisdiction shall be determined ‘as if the defendant was domiciled in a Member State’, how then can there still be a calling for Article 71b (3)? Is it because the proposal aims to introduce a reflexive application (meaning one which also works where the exclusive jurisdictional ground points away from the EU) of Article 22(4) [Article 24(4) in the new Regulation] – i.e. the exclusive jurisdictional ground for registration or validity of intellectual property rights?

Interestingly, Article 71b(3) (proposed) reinstates, for the common courts and whence for patent disputes only, the ‘assets’ rule vis-a-vis third State defendants which the European Commission had failed to introduce as a general rule in the recast Regulation (these are the dead pigeons of the title of current posting).

It is also noteworthy that the proposal acknowledges that courts in third States may have jurisdiction, and that in that case EU (common) courts may still issue provisional measures.

No doubt there may be some kind of explanation for my confusion. I should be glad to hear it.

Geert.

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Patent infringement and the Brussels I Regulation – Cruz Villalon AG revisits some old chestnuts in Solvay

Solvay, Case C-616/10, offers a great opportunity for the European Court of Justice to revisit a number of old chestnuts in the application of the Brussels I Regulation (the Jurisdiction Regulation or ‘JR’): the exclusive ground of jurisdiction with respect to intellectual property rights, of Article 22(4); multipartite litigation in Article 6 JR; and finally provisional measures, referred to in Article 31. Cruz Villalon AG’s Opinion was issued on 29 March.

Solvay SA, a company established in Belgium and holding a European patent, valid in more than one Member State [don’t ask – European patent law is less harmonised than one might hope and even a ‘European’ patent does not necessarily and automatically cover all Member States], brought an action in the Rechtbank ’s-Gravenhage in the Netherlands for infringement of several national parts of the patent, in particular against three companies originating from two different Member States, Honeywell Fluorine Products Europe BV, established in the Netherlands, and Honeywell Belgium NV and Honeywell Europe NV, established in Belgium, for marketing a product manufactured by Honeywell International Inc. that was identical to the product under the above patent.  In the course of the proceedings, Solvay lodged an interim claim against the defendants in the main proceedings, seeking provisional relief in the form of a cross-border prohibition against infringement for the duration of the main proceedings.

Firstly, with respect to the multipartite jurisduction element: Article 6(1) allows the applicant to sue several defendants before the court where any one of them is domiciled, provided the claims are’ so closely connected that it is expedient to hear and determine them together to avoid the risk of irreconcilable judgments resulting from separate proceedings’. Per Roche Nederland, the Court had controversially held that parallel actions for infringement in different Member States, which, in accordance with Article 64(3) of the Munich Convention, must be examined in the light of the national law in force, are not in the context of the same legal situation and hence any divergences between decisions cannot be treated as contradictory – leaving no room for application of Article 6(1) to the benefit of holders of European patents vis-a-vis actions for infringement in different Member States. Cruz Villalon AG proposes to distinguish, not to overturn, Roche Nederland on the ground that in the case at issue, the objectionable behaviour concerned more than one undertaking, domiciled in more than one Member State, however accused of the same behaviour in the same Member State. If Article 6(1) were not to be applicable, the courts concerned would hence hold on the basis of the same lex loci protectionis (that of the Member State in which the alleged conduct is said to have taken place) and hence the risk of irreconcilable judgments great.

The AG then turns to the application of Article 22(4), dealt with previously in particular in GAT. Here (as helpfully summarised by the AG) , the referring court asks, in essence, whether the fact that a defence of invalidity of a patent has been raised in interim proceedings for a cross-border prohibition against infringement, in parallel to main proceedings for infringement, is sufficient, and, if so, under what formal or procedural conditions, for Article 22(4) to become applicable. Applicability of Article 22(4)’s exclusive ground for jurisdiction is highly relevant: firstly, the court dealing with the case has to decline jurisdiction for the main proceedings on the basis of Article 25 (when an exclusive ground of jurisdiction is at stake, all other courts have to declare themselves without jurisdiction) and, secondly, as a consequence, it is then required to consider its competence to adjudicate on the interim proceedings on the basis of Article 31’s jurisdictional ground for provisional measures. After careful consideration in which the AG gives a brief ‘tour d’horizon’ of the various procedural realities that might exists, he advises that Article 22(4) is not applicable when the validity of a patent is raised only in interim proceedings, ! in so far as the decision likely to be adopted at the end of those proceedings does not have any final effect. Whether the latter is the case depends on the applicable law (see my comment above, re incomplete harmonisation of EU patent law).

I wonder whether the Court would be put off by the AG’s sidestep into what he calls ‘procedural reality’ (not a criterion which the Court generally is happy to entertain in the application of the JR) and whether, similarly, the criterion ‘final effect in accordance with the applicable law’ would offer enough legal certainty (which the CoJ definitely craves in the application of the JR).

One final consideration in the AG’s opinion is the application of Article 31’s jurisdictional ground for provisional measures (this question will only feature in the eventual judgment, should the Court reject the AG’s view on Article 22(4)). Article 31’s scope is limited. Amongst others, the measures within its scope must be of a ‘provisional’ nature, that is to say, per Reichert, be intended to preserve a factual or legal situation so as to safeguard rights the recognition of which is sought elsewhere from the court having jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter: that is a ratione temporis limitation.  In Van Uden, the court added a limitation ratione loci: there has to be a ‘real connecting link’ between the subject-matter of the provisional measures sought and the territorial jurisdiction of the Member State of the court seized. The AG suggests that applied to intellectual property rights (but with wider ramification), this condition does not imply that the measure must not have any ‘extraterritorial’ effect: rather, that for Article 31  to apply, there has to be a  minimum territorial localisation of the provisional measure sought. The existence of such real connecting link should be considered chiefly in the light of the enforcement procedures of the Member State of the court seized.

Not all of the considerations of the AG are likely to be entertained by the Court. Neither do they cover all aspects of the troublesome application of Article 22(4) [not much of which has made it into the review of the JR].

Geert.

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