28 September 2006

CFI: innovation may render pricing rules in parallel trading acceptable

Yesterday, the European Court of First Instance (CFI) delivered its long-awaited judgement in the case GSK vs EU Commission relating to a Spanish parallel import case. GSK’s dual pricing scheme introduced in Spain did not find explicit blessing by the CFI but the European Commission’s decision was quashed in some key respects. The Commission will have to do a better job when re-analysing GSK’s 1998 “General Sales Conditions” introducing one price for drugs resold subject to price controls in Spain and a (higher) price for drugs sold abroad.

The CFI held that there is no presumption that agreements between pharmaceutical companies and wholesalers intending to limit parallel trade have as their object the restriction of competition. The CFI recognises that the market for medicines is not one of free play of supply and demand. Lower prices may not necessarily be passed on to consumers: they may benefit only those “vectors of artificial competition”. The CFI went on to hold after examining the context that parallel trade permits a limited but real reduction in the prices of medicines so that the conditions were anti-competitive in effect. Exemption may be available, however, on the basis that the conditions contributed to innovation, an issue which the Commission had not satisfactorily examined.

The CFI’s ruling can be seen as part of the “new approach” taken by Luxembourg to pharmaceutical cases which the European Commission will have to adopt. Advocate-General Jacobs in his Opinion in Syfait, in part echoing the Court of First Instance in Bayer (Adalat), widened the scope for a differentiated approach to be taken to restrictions on parallel imports in the pharmaceutical industry. Where it can be shown that the endconsumer of medicines is not deprived of concrete benefits of parallel trade in the form of cheaper pharmaceuticals, restrictions on parallel trade may be in line with EC competition law; and arguments for exemption should be examined in detail, and may succeed.

(source: Oliver Heinisch, Tony Woodgate, Rowan Freeland, Simmons & Simmons (London, UK)
Never was the word "innovation" mentioned by the CFI so many times in one decision, 29 times. The CFI specially deals with the relationship between innovation, parallel trade and competition in the pharmaceutical sector (see par. 265-297)

27 September 2006

French Constitutional Council to Rule on London Agreement

France's Constitutional Council is due to rule on the constitutionality of the London Agreement by the end of next week. Ratification by France is the chief remaining obstacle stopping the London Agreement coming into force. The "London Agreement" is about translations of patents in Europe and is drafted as a Protocol on the European Patent Convention. It has been signed by 10 countries to date. To enter into force, at least 8 countries must ratify it including France, Germany and the United Kingdom. The current situation in Europe is that after the grant of a European patent, each country for which protection is sought requires translation of the full text of the patent into its national language.

For an average European patent [1], the patent owner thus pays an estimated € 11, 520 for translations, even though in the majority of cases the translations are never consulted. Under the London Agreement, the states would entirely or partly give up their right to a translation:

· in countries having English, German or French as an official language, no translation is required
· countries where English, German or French is not an official language would only require a translation of the claims in the national language; a translation of the description will only be required if it is not available in an EPO official language prescribed by the country concerned.

· a full translation may be required in case of litigation before the courts.
The savings to patent holders will depend on the number of countries which eventually participate, but it is expected that translation costs can be reduced by 50% if 12 countries join. The London Agreement would make therefore patent protection in Europe much cheaper. Seventy-six French parliamentarians voted to ask the Council to rule on the Agreement on September 2. The Council consists of nine appointed members and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, who, as a former president, is entitled to sit on the constitutional body. Its job is to decide whether new legislation complies with the country's 1958 Constitution. The Council can only rule if an application is referred to it before a new law is signed by the president. Such applications are normally filed by the parliamentary opposition where it believes that civil rights are at risk.

If implemented, the London Agreement would reduce translation requirements for European patents by allowing member states to opt-out of requiring a translation into their national language.

If the Council rules that the Agreement complies with the Constitution, the country's parliament and President Chirac will be able to proceed with the ratification process. However it is doubtful whether there will be ratification ahead of the presidential election in 2007.

[1] "Average European patent" means a patent covering 8 countries for 10 years, other costs include procedural fees to be paid to the European Patent Office (Euro 4300), patent attorneys fees (Euro 5500) and national maintenance fees (Euro 8900).

26 September 2006

Dutch Proposal for Favorable Patent Tax Treatment

Today, the Netherlands Parliament discusses a proposal of May 2006 for a new Tax Law, amending the Dutch 1969 Corporation Tax Act to introduce a so called “Patent Box”. The facility enables companies and organisations which have filed and obtained patents as a result of their R&D output in The Netherlands. With a view to encourage investments in research and development, the law proposes that costs of producing self-developed intangible assets (invention disclosures from R&D leading to a patent) do not have to be capitalised but can be immediately charged to the taxable result.

Furthermore, upon request to apply the ‘patent box’, the ‘net earnings’ derived from self-developed intangible assets may be taxed against a decreased rate of 10%. If the tax payer elects to apply the ‘patent box’, it will have to reverse the deduction of R&D expenses taken into account in previous years (taxable against the main tax rates); the capitalised R&D expenses may subsequently be amortised over the economic lifetime of the patent. While the term ‘earnings’ is not limited to formal royalty income, earnings in respect of trademarks and logos are not eligible for the patent box. The patent box can be applied to intra-group royalty income as well as third party royalty income. The amount of net earnings in which respect the patent box may be applied is capped at four times the total amount of the capitalised R&D cost. The patent box is still being further discussed with the European Commission.
Peter Flipsen , tax partner at Simmons & Simmons, published his critical views on these “Patent Box” proposals in the August issue of the Dutch tax monthly, "Maandblad Belasting Beschouwingen” (MBB). In his view the proposal contains to many restrictions (the most of which is the limitation of the 10% rate to maximum 4 times the research and development costs of patents included in the box) to make it attractive for companies to establish their R&D activities in the Netherlands or to have R&D activities performed for the benefit of Dutch entities.
(source: Loyens Loeff, “flash” publications, May 26, 2006).

21 September 2006

German Highest Court Rules on Employee Invention

The German Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof, or “BGH”) ruled on a complex issue: employee’s inventions (German Employees’ Invention Act) in what is now known as the “Haftetikett”-decision. The BGH held that an employer can be liable for damages if an employee cannot register his invention as a patent or utility model in a country because the employer has used (but not registered) the invention there. A former employee of a manufacturer of adhesive labels had, during his employment, invented an adhesive made of natural rubber. The employer registered patents for the invention in Germany and a number of other countries, and subsequently started using the invention to make labels in some of those countries, and also in Australia but without registering a patent there. The employer later stopped production. The inventor was unable to register a patent in Australia, as his former employer had used the invention there. He successfully claimed compensation for the loss of this right. The court said that an employer was not obliged to register a patent or utility model for an employee’s invention that it had claimed (under employment law). However, it must inform the employee that it was not applying to register and in which countries. This obligation is based on an employer’s general duty to act in the interest of its employees, including former employees.

In essence, the BGH confirmed the ruling of the Düsseldorf Regional and Düsseldorf Appeal court that the 4-month deadline during which an employer has to claim ownership vis-à-vis its employee with regard to any invention - is a conclusive deadline and, more important, that such 4-month deadline does not only start running with a notification by the employee but also if the employer has sufficient knowledge about the potential invention.

The BGH ruled that this normally is the case if the employer files for a patent. This means that in practice the 4-month deadline starts running at the date the patent application was filed. If the 4-month deadline expires and the employer has not claimed ownership, ownership rests with the employee. This conclusion is quite in contrast with the practice of the arbitration chamber who has competence on disputes relating to the calculation of the compensation. The arbitration chamber took the view that the 4-month deadline cannot start as long as the employee has not properly notified the invention to the employer with the detailed description. The practice could work with the arbitration chamber's rulings as employees quite often did not properly notify their invention so that the deadline did not start. This practice now has to change with the ruling of the Federal Supreme Court as the 4-month deadline regularly at the latest starts with the patent application.

The consequences for the practice in Germany are significant:

** Patent attorneys operating in Germany have to inform their clients about the beginning of the 4-month deadline (some may have advised according to the practice of the arbitration chamber).

** Companies operating in Germany, in particular mid-sized companies, have to take the obligations under the German Employees' Invention Act more seriously as they may risk losing ownership of inventions made by their employees.

** Companies have to adopt and implement internal rules and systems in order to comply with the German Employees' Invention Act.

** For a transitory period it may be an attractive defense strategy for a (potential) patent infringer to approach current or former employees who have been co-inventors in order to obtain ownership to this invention from them by direct transfer.
Peter Meyer, Simmons & Simmons, Düsseldorf

19 September 2006

Ranbaxy loses patent challenge against Pfizer's Lipitor drug in Netherlands

The District Court in The Hague, Netherlands ruled on September 13 mainly in favor of Warner Lambert (Pfizer) in two judgments against Ranbaxy, one decision related to EP patent 0 247 633 and the other decision on EP patent 0 409 281. The judgements are part of an ongoing patent litigation between Warner-Lambert (Pfizer) and Ranbaxy, an India based drugs manufacturer.

Center stage of this litigation is the highly successful cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor, consisting of “atorvastatin”, an enantiomeric substance, containing a dihydroxyheptanoic acid chain, suitable to inhibition of cholesterol synthesis in the human body. The District Court The Hague held Warner-Lambert's European Patent 0 247 633 in the Netherlands to be valid. Warner-Lambert's European Patent 0 409 281 — covering the calcium salt of atorvastatin which had been challenged by Ranbaxy — was held to be invalid in the Netherlands.

Pfizer has applied for a number of patents related to the inhibition of cholesterol synthesis, two of which are being dealt with in these two court decisions. The first patent, EP 0 247 633 was granted on 30 January 1991, upon an application as filed on 29 May 1987, with a priority claim as of 30 May 1986. The '633 patent expires in 2007. The second patent, EP 0 409 281 was granted in 2001, upon an application as filed in 1990, with a priority claim of 21 July 1989. The '281 patent expires in July 2010. Pfizer applied for Supplementary Protection Certificates ("SPCs") in (most of) the designated states in Europe on the basis of the '633 patent for Lipitor. In The Netherlands, Pfizer obtained an SPC expiring November 5, 2011.

Ranbaxy argued that Pfizer’s SPCs are invalid as they are based on the ‘633 patent which patent – according to Ranbaxy - does not cover atorvastatin. Ranbaxy’s basic position is that atorvastatin is an enantiomeric substance, and that the scope of the '633 patent is limited to racemates only. Ranbaxy defended that support of their view could be found in the patent file history of Pfizer's, e.g. correspondence by Pfizer’s patent attorney with the Danish Patent Office in the Danish application for the national counterpart of the '633 patent. Ranbaxy further supported this claim by pointing to Pfizer's own statements in the prosecution stage of the '281 patent. In the '281 prosecution, the '633 patent was considered to be the closest prior art.
Ranbaxy and Pfizer are involved in disputes related to the (counter parts of the) '633 patent and the '281 patent on a world-wide basis. Actions are pending in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and The Netherlands, as well as in other countries. Ranbaxy has been quite successful in revocation of the (counter parts of the) '281 patent. In view of the '633 patent as the closest prior art, the '281 patent has been nullified for lack of inventive step in multiple jurisdictions. However, Ranbaxy until now appears to be less successful in the nullification of the '633 patent and/or the corresponding SPC, which is Ranbaxy's primary interest in order to be able to likewise market an atorvastatin product like Pfizer's Lipitor.

In several jurisdictions, Pfizer's confirmation of Ranbaxy's view with respect to the scope of the '633 patent has been excluded as evidence. In these proceedings, the scope of protection of the '633 patent has been assessed from the point of view of the skilled person only, while any and all representations limiting the objective scope as made by the patentee have been disregarded. For instance in the UK, Pumfrey J was very explicit clear in his judgment of 12 October 2005 regarding the scope of protection of the '633 patent, by ruling:

“At the outset of the trial, I ruled that Ranbaxy could not rely upon certain documents, largely representations made to certain patent offices, in which persons acting for Warner-Lambert had made representations about the disclosure of '633 much the same as that for which Ranbaxy now contend.

I excluded the documents because I considered that they were not admissible on the question of construction”.

Similarly, in the Dutch proceedings, the Dutch Patent Office ("Octrooicentrum Nederland") was asked to provide its expert opinion on inter alia the question whether the skilled person would understand the '633 patent to exclusively cover racemates (and therefore not enantiomers). Octrooicentrum Nederland confirmed in its expert report of 28 March 2006 that it did not consider the file history of the '633 patent, let alone the '281 patent, - and therefore would consider the "objective scope" only - reasoning:
"Octrooicentrum Nederland in the first place stresses that the question,
which must be answered in this expert report, is how the skilled person will
understand patent EP '633 and not what Warner has stated in that respect in any

The District Court The Hague followed this reasoning of the Dutch Patent Office . The result is that the '633 patent is being considered as the true “basic” patent (within the meaning of Article 3 sub a of Regulation 1768/92/EEC) covering the Lipitor product. The Court disregarded evidence filed by Ranbaxy – all based on prosecution file history of the'633 Danish counter part and the '281 patent - in assessing the scope of protection of the '633 patent.

In most other European countries, like the UK, France and Germany, consultation of the prosecution file history is excluded as evidence, mainly from the point of view that it cannot contribute to the assessment by the skilled person of the scope of protection. In The Netherlands (like in some other smaller jurisdictions), quite a liberal attitude has been adopted in the past vis-à-vis consultation of the prosecution file history in assessing the scope of protection of a patent (often compared to the US “file history estoppel”).

The ruling means that Ranbaxy is prevented from launching its drug before Lipitor's basic patent EP ‘633), which expires in November 2011.
See also "Lipitor battle in the Netherlands—District Court invalidates Warner-Lambert’s EP ’281 and holds EP ’633 infringed", Klaas Bisschop, Ruud van der Velden, Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice, 2006, Vol. 1, No. 13 (December 2006)

Google ordered to remove news from French & German speaking newspapers

News on the European copyright front. On September 5, a Belgian court ordered Google to remove all articles, photographs and graphics from French and German speaking newspapers. Copiepresse issued the complaint in summary proceedings and won the court ruling. Not only does this require Google to remove content from Google News, the court order requires removing the content from the Google cache as well and to publish the full text of the judgement on its websites. I like a comment I found on one of the blogs reporting the story:

"What’s next, when you get a parking fine having to drive around for a week with
text on your car saying that you parked at the wrong place."

17 September 2006

Who is going to Stop Europe’s Patent Troll?

How Sisvel can get away with cowboy type legal actions as the one they now provoked in Germany (see previous post) is puzzling. Sisvel did it in Italy with Motorola (who had to give up and take a license), they now repeat it in Germany, trying to force SanDisk into taking a license. SanDisk, however, is of the opinion that the underlying three patents are invalid and not infringed upon. SanDisk is involved in civil patent litigations in Germany, The Netherlands and the UK. The outcome of these cases is not expected any time soon, at least not before Spring 2007 (if Sisvel will not find other cowboy methods to force SanDisk into taking a license).

The mp3 cases Sisvel is pursuing are not about counterfeits, they are about legitimately manufactured mp3 enabled consumer devices made by such giants as Apple, Motorola, Samsung, LG, Matsushita, Sony Ericsson, Creative, etc. Since when does a patent license issue (so a dispute about money, royalties, or license fees) ends up in a criminal court? It is because Sisvel’s arguments in a civil (patent) court don’t do the job. Which job? Extracting license fees for three patents that are invalid, not infringed upon and will not stand the ultimate test by any civil (patent) court. However the strategy is to fight any “infringer” (read: legitimate manufacturer of mp3 enabled consumer devices) by seizing goods at Customs (using the EU Border Regulation in a TRIPS incompliant way), use the criminal system in Italy and Germany to your advantage by misleading the public prosecutor (and the court for that matter) pretending you are chasing “counterfeits”? Sisvel’s managing director Dini gave an interview (in mp3 file) recently, pretending what Sisvel is doing is the right thing: "over 600 licensees have been entered into, so what’s wrong with Sisvel’s methods? They just do their job, right?" one would say.

Wrong. There is a clear and present danger that patent strategies of Europe’s biggest Patent Troll will stifle innovation, keep competitors off the EU market illegitimately, extract licenses out of good businesses for an invention that was someone else’s (if at all an invention) and hence invoking -what I believe to be - invalid patents, thus misusing patent law, as is witnessed by:

1. use of invalid patents (not "novel" invention, Chambers, a BBC researcher, sugegsted exactly what has been described in the patented, years before the patent claimed it as their “invention”)
2. misleading Customs by letting them issue Border Detention Orders against (mostly) without proof of infringement, which is a must under the TRIPS Convention

3. charging license fees that are ludicrously high and certainly not “RAND” (“Reasonable And Non-Discriminatory”), as obliged under standard setting rules

4. misleading public prosecutors in Italy and Germany by making them believe all mp3 players they are chasing are made by “counterfeiters”, not telling what the real market situation is

5. pretending mp3 patents under their management are “real break through inventions” and deserve public recognition and licensee fees that amount to over 500 million euros

6. pretending that Sisvel does not need to show infringement by each and every player they seize, erroneously arguing that they need not do so as the mp3 patents under management are “essential patents” under ISO/IEC Standard 11172-3.

7. breaching EU law by entering a clause in license agreements that forbid licensee in Europe to challenge the validity of the patent (contrary to clear antitrust regulations of the EU) where the TTBE is not applicable taken Sisvel 100% market share (by their own admission, as all mp3 players are covered by "essential patents" that "Sisvel owns"

see also: Impact, "Sisvel v SanDisk - as clear as mud - The more you look into the Sisvel v SanDisk bun fight, the less clear it all becomes!" (Impact is a "blog about intellectual property and IT law from a UK perspective")

Can a Different Judge overrule a Colleague in the Same Court?

Yes. Actually that’s possible, at least in Germany, correction, at least in Berlin, oops, at least in the “Tiergarten” Municipal Court in Berlin. A tiergarten (“zoo”) it is. We earlier wrote about Sisvel’s attempts to bring Patent Wild West practices into the German Courts. It gets funnier. What happened after Judge Ziegler of the Berlin “Tiergarten” Court declared the action of the Public Prosecutor in the SanDisk seizure case (IFA, Berlin) “illegal”? The day Judge Ziegler was absent from the court, the Public Prosecutor – unhappy about him losing his case - filed a new application for stopping the release of the SanDisk mp3 players, before another judge at the same court, Judge Buckow and got what he wanted. He argued before the new judge that the goods need to be examined before a further decision can be taken. He succeeded in convincing the second Judge - without informing SanDisk lawyers (and I am sure without informing Judge Ziegler either) that the goods should be kept until they have been examined before a decision about a seizure shall be made. Be aware: this was not an appeal court but the same Municipal court, just a different judge. Click here for the second judgement.

The request (as well as the second one, surely initiated by Sisvel who must have convinced the Public Prosecutor that patent law was a whole lot more fun than criminal law) makes a mockery of law and more resembles a Bunko game than a legitimate legal process. How can a one and the same court rule the opposite way on the same set of facts within two days? And since when does Sisvel need “to examine” where in civil court they consistently take the position that they do not need to examine mp3 players (from whoever) as all mp3 players on the EU market need to use an industry standard and the patent happen to be “essential patents” under that same standard, so everyone must use the patents by the mere fact that they are labeled “mp3”?

We have sufficient belief in the German legal system that someone will stand up and stop this nonsensical use of the criminal system for patent troll’s purposes.

15 September 2006

The Lawyer European Legal Forum, Berlin

On September 28 and 29 the English publishing house "The Lawyer" organises the "European Legal Forum", intended for in-house counsel of European companies. Key note speaker is Eberhard Uhlmann, Secretary General and General Counsel of the European Investment Bank. He will touch upon the success and challenges in funding a productive and competitive Europe and examining how far we need to travel to reach the goals set out in Lisbon to make Europe the economic powerhouse of the world.

On Friday, speakers will deal with the increasing importance of management of IPRs for corporations, and the general counsel’s role in this including “realtime” studies, from which general counsel could learn to deal with IPR cases in an efficient way with in-house patent counsel. Detailing the ongoing management of intellectual property rights in European companies, touching on patent disputes, brand protection, managing IP in new technology and insight into how companies successfully benchmark their IP operations.

Speakers are Beate Lalk-Menzel, Senior Counsel DaimlerChrysler AG, Mats Parup, Head of Corporate Intellectual Property Novartis AG (Switzerland) and Severin de Wit, attorney at Simmons & Simmons Netherlands. For the program click here.

EPO's revocation of coffee pod patent revisited

Simmons & Simmons led the way in securing a victory for Kraft Foods on 30 August against Sara Lee vs. Douwe Egberts at the European Patent Office ("EPO") in Munich, see my earlier post "Sara Lee’s Patent for Coffee Pads Revoked by EPO". Kraft's in-house team was also assisted by Andrew Waugh QC and Dr Peter Klusmann of Hoffmann Eitle.

After a five year battle, the Technical Board of Appeal of the European Patent Office held that Sara Lee's European Patent EP904717 (for an assembly of a container and coffee pod for use in a coffee machine) was invalid and, accordingly, the patent was revoked. Click here for the Minutes of the EPO Appeal Board Meeting (the full text of the decision will only be available later)

The decision ended Sara Lee's attempt to claim exclusionary rights to coffee pod sales utilised in the Senseo coffee pod machine (by Philips) across Europe. Sara Lee's aim was to ensure that consumers only used its Senseo coffee pods, or pods licensed by Sara Lee. Initially Sara Lee sought to enforce its patent against a number of smaller coffee pod manufacturers and retailers in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, whose pods (similar to tea bags, but filled with coffee) were suitable for the Senseo machine. A number of smaller companies lodged post-grant opposition proceedings at the EPO and were soon joined by Kraft Foods, the world's second largest branded food & beverage company which is known for its Jacobs, Carte Noire, Kenco and Maxwell House coffee brands in Europe who had been selling coffee pods long before the Sara Lee's patent had been granted.

Opposition proceedings enable a successful party to dismiss a European patent centrally in all the countries for which the patent hasbeen granted (in this case 19 countries across Europe).

Instructing Jeremy Morton and Marc Döring of Simmons & Simmons' London Intellectual Property Group to advise on strategy and represent them at the EPO, Kraft also commenced declaratory proceedings against Sara Lee in the Paris District Court. In response, Sara Lee aggressively pursued infringement proceedings against Kraft in Germany.

The EPO Appeal Board decided to revoke the patent after a thorough review of the arguments presented by both parties. It was a great success both to Kraft and to many other coffee pod producers and retailers, many of whom had already been forced to take licences from Sara Lee under the patent to continue trading. One of Kraft's guiding principles of was "play to win".

Gerd Pleuths, SVP & Deputy General Counsel of Kraft Foods commented:

"Kraft is extremely satisfied with the decision, particularly since we will now
be able to continue selling our coffee pods without any restrictions. Kraft has
been selling its pods for more than 20 years, far longer than Sara Lee. The favourable decision is the result of the very successful cooperation
between our in-house lawyers and our outside counsels at various firms.
However, Simmons & Simmons' Marc Döring played a key role in coordinating all
our efforts which ultimately resulted in this important success."

11 September 2006

EPLA: The Next Anti-Patent Punchbag

Not bothered by an actual knowledge about what EPLA is about and more concerned about his future as an anti software patent crusader now the EU Directive is off the table, he now takes aim against the patent system as such. Florian Mueller, in his blog No Lobbyists As Such, with a Bushonian subtitle "The War over Software Patents in the European Union", does not shy back from uttering the following canard:

"In his speech, he said the European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA) “is a goal worth pursuing” and that he wanted to involve the EU in the EPLA negotiations “and bring them to finality”. He falsely claims that the EPLA would “offer valuable cost savings”: even Nokia and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline have already pointed out that the opposite would be the case.

His claim that the EPLA is compatible with the idea of an EU-wide Community patent is also a misrepresentation. The EPLA is only about strengthening the European Patent Office (EPO)."

Mueller is referring to EU Commissioner McCreevy's speech last week where he seemed to be more positive and supportive of EPLA than ever before. That, obviously is bad news for those that now use the EPLA as the new punchbag against the patent system as such.

The EPLA is not about "strengthening the EPO". The EPLA is a draft for a European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA) with the intention on establishing a European patent litigation system. It is a proposed patent law agreement aimed at creating an "optional protocol to the European Patent Convention (EPC) which would commit its signatory states to an integrated judicial system, including uniform rules of procedure and a common appeal court".

It is a sensible, well thought, enforcement system of patents that have been granted by EPO. It is a proposal for an agreement between member states of the EU Turkey and Switzerland and some member states to the European Patent Organization to establish a Diplomatic Conference, leading to a Treaty whereby the current proposals of a Working Party would be implemented.

In 1973, when the European Patent Convention was establihed, leading to the EPO and an uniform granting of patents, the patent community failed to agree on an enforcement in national courts, of that same European patent. Creating a European patent is one thing, enforcing it throughout Europe at reasonable cost, predictable and protective of interest of patent holders and their opponents, is nothing but a sure way to innovation. And long overdue.

09 September 2006

Voice your Ideas about Issued Patents

Two Americans (Peter Johnson and Kevin Hermansen in Salt Lake City, Utah) recently started WikiPatents, to provide - what they call - "public patent clarity for the world". It fits in a growing trend to publicly voice and comment on the "quality" of the patents, issued by the USPTO (and EPO for that matter, although the new WikiPatent only relates to US patents issued). Could be a good idea for EPO as well, so as to assist the examiner in finding prior art, to be more critical of what is being issued and to hear what the "street" is thinking about their work.

08 September 2006

EU Commissioner McCreevy on EPLA

Charlie McCreevy, Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, gave a speech today on the future of IPR in Europe - updating in particular his plans for patents in Europe. No formal proposals were made, other than a commitment to produce a Communication before the end of the year. However, there was some more positive mood music for the EPLA.

The speech was held at an IPR Conference which was part of an informal ECOFIN Council meeting, organised by the Finnish EU Presidency.

In Brief
Commissioner McCreevy believes that the time is right to make a serious attempt to improve the IPR system in Europe. He welcomed the fact that the Finnish Presidency has singled out innovation as the key factor for Europe's future and said that a good IPR environment is, in turn, a key factor for innovation.

He praised the success of the community trade mark and, more recently, the community design, but contrasted this with the "far from satisfactory" situation regarding patents. "How can you on the one hand say we want the European economy to be the most competitive in the world when on the other hand we have a patent system that is outdated and expensive to enforce? "
McCreevy proposes a two pronged approach: advancing the Community Patent and, in parallel, involving the Community in the EPLA negotiations to bring them to finality. "The Community Patent and the EPLA are not mutually exclusive initiatives. They are both aiming for the same goal: a better, cheaper, more reliable patent system."

Community Patent
McCreevy effectively confirmed that the 2003 Common Political Approach on the Community Patent is now dead. However, he proposed no concrete alternatives other than saying that he wants to be imaginative and to "move this debate along", working with the Finnish Presidency, the upcoming German Presidency and the European Parliament. It seems, therefore, that the Commission is unwilling to give up on the Community Patent even though, without a radical breakthrough, it is unlikely to provide the short (or medium) term solution demanded by industry.

The mood music for this sounds more positive. Commissioner McCreevy recognised that the EPLA offers a unified jurisdiction for European patents and would offer valuable cost savings and increased certainty in regard to patent application. He considered that the EPLA needs Community involvement but that with an active, constructive approach by the Commission, there could be a momentum to achieve a successful outcome.

The comment that "in terms of the jurisdictional arrangements the challenges are similar for both of them" could be taken as lending support to the view held by some that if agreement can be reached on the EPLA, its structure may in turn be "adopted" by the Community Patent if agreement can be reached on that in the future.

Enforcement Directive
Commissioner McCreevy concluded with a stong plea for the implementation of the enforcement directive, which has been patchy so far.

Peter Hill, Simmons & Simmons, London

07 September 2006

Sisvel brings Patent Wild West into Germany

Sisvel, Europe's most notorious patent troll, is known for its unscrupulous way of using (many feel: misusing) the criminal system in Italy, where they convinced Italian public prosecutors - not particularly known for their penchant for patent law - to use the criminal system in an unprecedented way, to enforce its patents it licensed from Philips c.s. against alleged infringers.

The practice has driven many companies in (involuntary) license deals by making their lives miserable and forcing business people to take licenses rather than fighting the patents in court. Big names like Apple, Motorola, Creative, Sony Ericsson, Samsung have given up challenging the Philips mp3 patents, administered by Sisvel, due to Border Detention orders - disrupting distribution channels - and the use by Sisvel of criminal proceedings and other enforcement tricks against those companies.

Now Sisvel has been able to bring the Patent Wild West into Germany.

On September 7, a judge at the Berlin court ruled in favor of SanDisk, arguing that the use by German public prosecutor's office of a criminal "search" and order to seize SanDisk's new Sansa mp3 players at the IFA consumer electronics exhibition in Berlin, was illegal. Today, the public prosecutor not only filed an appeal, he also managed to get another judge (so not an appeal judge) in the same court to overrule his colleagues decision to have the release of the seized SanDisk mp3 players suspended. This application by the public prosecutor was filed at the municipal court in Berlin, which has to decide about these applications to "stay" the release of the seized goods before the matter is forwarded to appeal court. It is said that the public prosecutor decision to appeal the Berlin Court decision and to apply for interim measures was based on directions of the head of his unit. Normally an appeal by the public prosecutor does not postpone the effect of the Berlin Court's order. To circumvent this he applied for an interim decision which would have that very effect.

This highly unusual action by a public prosecutor, usually engaged in fighting crimes, cannot but mean that he is "(mis)guided" by Sisvel, as there is no sensible explanation for seeking interim relief after the trade fair has ended, other than that he is being pressed by Sisvel to do this. Sisvel exports its Wild West enforcement charade it was able to uphold in Italy against honest businesses in Germany.

It is a shame public prosecutor's office let itself be used by Sisvel in this patent wrangle, where it basically is a patent fight that needs to be fought (and actually is fought) in civil courts. SanDisk will, no doubt, seek civil and criminal law suits against both Sisvel and the prosecutor, based on tort, antitrust violation and unfair competition. Whilst not all may be succesfull, one cannot underestimate the "1000 needles" effect which would transform SanDisk from prey to hunter.

For all information on Sisvel proceedings and current legal status of licensing issues, contact Severin de Wit at severin.dewit@ipeg.com

06 September 2006

Berlin Court condemns Sisvel's IFA seizures as "illegal"

Today Sisvel, Europe's very own "patent troll", was given a serious blow by a Berlin Court. Sisvel convinced German public prosecutors to provide some helping hands in pressing companies in the mp3 audio field to take licenses under patents, owned by Philips and other companies. Sisvel obtained an order from the German Public Prosecutor's Office to seize SanDisk's newest mp3 products at Europe's largest electronics exhibition, IFA. Sisvel used this Prosecutor's order to conduct raids at the IFA exhibition in Berlin to force SanDisk to remove products from its IFA booth, allegedly infringing patents, administered by this Italian patent troll. The court found the use of the criminal seizure proceedings against the law and ordered Sisvel to immediately stop and lift the seizures.

The sad news for Sandisk is that IFA ends today so the court's order may not restore SanDisk legitimate commercial activities at IFA. Sisvel once again showed that its rogue measures to press innovative companies like SanDisk into license deals are not only counterproductive, they cross legal boundaries. Sisvel's strategy worked for Italy, but a German court has stopped this illegal use by Sisvel of criminal proceedings in cases where (just) patents are at stake.
IPKat wondered on his IP blog - reporting on the recent ATRIP conference in Parma, Italy, what can constitute a misuse of IP right when he pondered "Who decides what is normal/abusive/legitimate etc and by what authority." Well in my view this behavior by our own EU patent troll Sisvel clearly is, in my mind, a good example. The Judge in Berlin agreed.
Want to know more about patent trolls? Visit the Patent Trolls conference in London on December 8, 2006

Once more, The ECJ decisions in GAT vs. LuK and Roche vs. Primus

In an earlier blog, I reported on the European Court of Justice judgements in GAT/Luk and Roche/Primus. Both decisions of the ECJ will also be published in Dutch in the 5th issue of the Dutch Intellectual Property magazine "IER" (Intellectuele Eigendom & Reclamerecht), published by Kluwer Legal Publishers , followed by an explanatory “Note” of Severin de Wit. Click here for the full text of the Note.