Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Post-revision Lugano: an official map for lawyers

The website of the Official Journal of the European Union carries this morning a 56-page Explanatory Report on the Convention on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters (the Lugano Convention of 30 October 2007), prepared by Fausto Pocar (Professor of International Law at the University of Milan). The report has this to say about intellectual property (shorn of footnotes):
"4. Intellectual property rights (Article 22(4))

98. On the subject of the validity of patents, trade marks, designs, or other similar rights required to be deposited or registered, the rule governing jurisdiction is generally the one laid down in the 1988 Convention [the Lugano Convention on jurisdiction and the enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters 1988]. Exclusive jurisdiction is conferred on the courts of the State bound by the Convention in whose territory the deposit or registration has been applied for, has taken place or is deemed to have taken place under the terms of an international convention or, as the new wording makes clear, a Community instrument. This last point has been added to remove any doubt about the equivalence of Community law concerning intellectual and industrial property rights with the law of the international conventions in force.

99. Exclusive jurisdiction also applies with respect to patents granted on the basis of the Convention on the grant of European patents, signed in Munich on 5 October 1973. The rule according to which the courts of each State bound by the Convention are to have exclusive jurisdiction in proceedings concerned with the registration or validity of any European patent granted for that State, without prejudice to the jurisdiction of the European Patent Office, which was contained in Article Vd of Protocol 1 to the 1988 Convention, has now been incorporated into Article 22(4). The last part of the provision as it stood in the Protocol has been omitted: it made an exception to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of the States bound by the Convention where the patent was a Community patent under Article 86 of the Convention for the European patent for the common market, signed in Luxembourg on 15 December 1975.
The Luxembourg Convention, amended by a subsequent Agreement relating to Community patents signed in Luxembourg on 15 December 1989, provided for the grant of a Community patent similar to national patents, but independent of them and with equivalent effects in all Contracting States. It declared the Brussels Convention to be applicable to all actions concerning Community patents, while establishing a special jurisdiction for disputes concerning validity and infringement. The Luxembourg Convention never came into force, and no reference has been made to it in the new Lugano Convention.
100. The question of an exception to the exclusive jurisdiction conferred by Article 22(4) on the courts of the Member States has remained a live issue, however, as a result of efforts to pursue the creation of a Community patent by means of Community legislation; the Commission presented a proposal for a Council Regulation on the Community patent in 2000, followed by the Commission’s 2003 proposals for a Council Decision conferring jurisdiction on the Court of Justice in disputes relating to the Community patent and a Council Decision establishing the Community Patent Court and concerning appeals before the Court of First Instance. The general approach is to give broad jurisdiction to the Court of Justice, more especially in disputes concerning infringement, including declarations of non-infringement, disputes concerning the validity of a Community patent, whether challenged in the main action or by way of counter-claim, and disputes concerning the use of the invention after publication of the Community patent application or regarding rights based on prior use of the invention, with exclusive jurisdiction to order provisional measures in cases within these areas, leaving the courts of the States with exclusive jurisdiction under Article 22(4) only in cases not expressly reserved to the
Community court.
101. The diplomatic conference held from 10 to 12 October 2006 discussed whether it would be advisable to append to the Lugano Convention a protocol conferring exclusive jurisdiction on the Court of Justice in matters of Community industrial property rights. Such a protocol would have the advantage of assigning to a single court disputes on the validity of patents and disputes on infringement, which under the Lugano Convention would otherwise have to be brought before different courts. But against the proposed protocol it was argued that it did not circumscribe the disputes concerned with sufficient precision, leaving their definition to Community legislation to be enacted later, and that to include actions for infringement was a major departure from the rules of jurisdiction in the Lugano Convention and would compromise its overall harmony. It proved impossible to arrive at a satisfactory formulation, and the diplomatic conference consequently preferred to defer consideration of such a protocol to a later date, when a Regulation on the Community patent had been adopted.

102. The protocol conferring exclusive jurisdiction on the Court of Justice in industrial property matters drew attention to certain needs which have in fact been at least partially satisfied by the subsequent case-law of the Court of Justice: before the signature of the new Convention, the Court found itself called upon to decide the question whether the rule of exclusive jurisdiction over registration or validity of a patent applied irrespective of whether the issue was raised by way of an action or a plea in objection. The Court held that it did: in the light of the position and objective of the provision within the scheme of the Brussels Convention, the view had to be taken that the courts of the State of registration of the patent had exclusive jurisdiction ‘whatever the form of proceedings in which the issue of a patent’s validity is raised, be it by way of an action or a plea in objection, at the time the case is brought or at a later stage in the proceedings’. The Court of Justice thus held that where an action was brought for infringement, the court seised could not find indirectly that the patent at issue was invalid, even if the effects of the judgment were limited to the parties to the proceedings, as happened under the national laws of some of the States bound by the Convention.

In view of that precedent, a court called upon to hear an action for infringement of a patent in which the question arises whether the patent is valid must, unless it has exclusive jurisdiction to decide the validity of the patent under Article 22(4), of its own motion declare that it lacks jurisdiction to determine the point under Article 25 of the Convention; and depending on the procedures allowed by the national law applicable, it may have to suspend the infringement proceedings, pending judgment by the court with exclusive jurisdiction, before reaching a decision on the substance. Consequently, the wording of Article 22(4) of the new Convention was modified compared both to the corresponding provision in the 1988 Lugano Convention and Article 22(4) of the Brussels I Regulation, in order to incorporate the GAT ruling of the Court of Justice [judgment here; short note here].
The position adopted by the Court of Justice largely satisfies the intended purposes of the proposal for a protocol on the exclusive jurisdiction of the Court of Justice, by requiring a single exclusive jurisdiction for actions challenging validity or alleging infringement, which prevents rulings on the validity of a patent from being delivered by more than one court, even if they are considering quite different aspects of the matter, and thus avoids the danger of conflicting decisions. If the European Community were to adopt a Regulation on the issue of a Community patent, and to confer exclusive jurisdiction over the registration and validity of patents on the Court of Justice, a court of a State bound by the Convention which was called upon to hear an action for infringement of a Community patent could not rule even indirectly on the validity of the patent, and for that question would have to recognise the exclusive jurisdiction of the Court of Justice, and treat that court as it would another national court".
This report was commissioned in order to consider all of the provisions of the Lugano Convention in the light of the judicial precedents not only regarding the preceding Convention but also the substantially-identical Brussels I Regulation. The report does not in any way reflect the position of the States or of the Community with regard to Brussels I and the absence of an explanatory report on Brussels I does not mean that this report is intended to fill any supposed gap:
"In other words, the present report is not intended to offer clarification of the Regulation, or to give indications as to its interpretation or the application of the rules it lays down: its sole purpose is to explain the rules of the Lugano Convention as they stand after revision".
PatLit is unsure of the legal status of this document and does not know the extent to which it might be considered authoritative, influential or binding in legal proceedings.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As to legal status etc.: the report has no legal status, and its purpose is as follows on its page 3: "An advantage of such an explanatory report is that, in the system of the Convention, unlike the system of which the Brussels I Regulation forms part, there is no Court of Justice to resolve uncertainties of interpretation that may arise in cases before national courts, so that it is desirable that the courts should be provided with a point of eference to clarify the meaning of the Convention and facilitate uniform application, not least in view of the possibility that other countries might accede to the Convention in future."

In the past, similar reports have been deemed useful for interpreting the Brussels Convention (now replaced by Regulation 44/2001) and have been relied upon in case-law.