Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wenzel on Preliminary Injunctions in Germany

Stephan Wenzel has published an article in the November 2016 issue of Mitteilungen der deutschen Patentanwälten (pp. 481-85) titled Olanzapin macht aus dem Patent ein Gebrauchsmuster:  Ein Kommentar zue aktuellen Rechtslage bei einstweiligen Verfügungen aus einem erteilten Patent ("Olanzapin turns patents into utility models:  A commentary on the current state of the law concerning preliminary injunctions for issued patents").  Here is the abstract (my translation):
Since the Olanzapin and Harnkatheterset decisions of the Düsseldorf Court of Appeals, there has been an increase in denials of motions for preliminary injunctions on the ground that the validity of the patent in suit is uncertain.  Not all infringement courts follow this opinion, however.  An analysis.
To put the title in perspective, "utility model" (or sometimes "petty patent") is the term most commonly used in English for an intellectual property right in an invention that may not qualify for a patent (perhaps because it wouldn't satisfy patent law's nonobviousness criterion).  What I just said can be a bit misleading, though, because the law of utility models (in countries, unlike the U.S., that recognize them at all) can vary quite a bit from one place to another.  Indeed, since 2006 under German law utility models (Gebrauchsmuster) must satisfy the same "inventive step" criterion that applies to patents. They are generally easier to obtain, however, because there is only a cursory examination up front, and once obtained a German utility model can be converted into a patent (and thus provides a measure of temporary protection).  Another difference between patents and utility models is that in Germany patent validity and infringement decisions are bifurcated.  The German Patent Office's Bundespatentgericht, not the courts hearing infringement matters, resolve patent validity challenges, although in the end the Patent Office's determination can be appealed to the Federal Supreme Court.  With regard to utility models, on the other hand, validity is resolved in the context of infringement litigation, not in a proceeding before the Bundespatengericht.  For fuller discussion, see my book pp. 237-38. 

Anyway, this brief introduction to utility models illuminates the author's meaning above, where he suggests that, in deciding whether or not to grant a preliminary injunction in a patent infringement case, the Düsseldorf courts are too willing to substitute their own opinions on patent validity, and do not give sufficient weight to fact that the German or European Patent Office has granted a patent in the first place.  To be sure, this lack of deference can work in both directions.  In the Olanzapin case the author refers to, the court reversed a denial of a preliminary injunction, despite the fact that the patent had been found invalid by the Patent Office, on the ground that that decision was clearly erroneous (evident unrichtig).  (For discussion of Olanzapin, see my book pp. 243-44.)  But both Olanzapin and the subsequent decision in Harnkatheterset contain language suggesting that validity can be adequately ascertained only if the patent has already withstood a validity challenge, and it's this part that Dr. Wenzel finds most troubling.  (For a previous blog post on Harnkatheterset, see here.)  Dr. Wenzel cites work by other scholars and decisions from other courts in Germany that do not appear to make it quite so difficult for patent owners to obtain preliminary injunctions, though they differ somewhat in their verbal formulations.  (They may require a high probability of validity, for example, but not necessarily a Bundespatentgericht decision upholding validity.) He concludes by suggesting that courts are more willing to grant preliminary injunctions in favor of drug companies against generic drug makers, and that this favoritism violates the principle of equality.

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