Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Making directors liable in Australia: what must be proved?

The current issue of the Allens Arthur Robinson Intellectual Property Newsletter features a good note by Trevor Davies and Rob Silberstein, "Patent infringement and company directors", on the 22 February 2010 ruling of Bennett J (Federal Court of Australia) in Inverness Medical Switzerland GmbH v MDS Diagnostics Pty Ltd and others [2010] FCA 108. Issues raised in this note include the liability of a director for an infringement performed by a company as well as liability for authorising the company's infringement.

In this case the third respondent (Dr Appanna) was recorded on the company website as being the managing director and founder of the first respondent, MDS; he also controlled the MDS companies as shareholder. but was he liable for the acts of MDS as a joint tortfeasor? Australian case law has developed three separate tests for establishing director's liability: Bennett J affirmed that, as the Full Court decided in Allen Manufacturing Co Pty Limited v McCallum & Co Pty Limited [2001] FCA 1838, it is not necessary to determine which test is the correct one, but had no doubt in concluding that Dr Appanna was liable. The following paragraph of the judgment, with key words highlighted, points to evidential targets:
"I am satisfied that Dr Appanna’s position as the Managing Director of MDS NZ and his participation in the procurement and distribution of the MDS devices in New Zealand and Australia are sufficient to establish that he deliberately, wilfully or knowingly pursued a course of conduct that resulted in MDS selling products that infringed the Inverness patents. Further, he was aware of competing products on the market and was indifferent as to whether or not those products were protected by patents. In taking part in the activities of MDS NZ and MDS Aus as a director and in the management of those companies, Dr Appanna directed or procured the obtaining of and the selling of the products that infringed Inverness ’ patents".
As to authorising infringing conduct under section 13(1) of the Patents Act 1990 (Cth), it is infringement of a patentee's exclusive rights not only to exploit an invention but also to authorise another person to exploit it. The judge agreed. Liability is established where it is shown that the alleged infringer authorised exploitation in that he sanctioned, approved or countenanced the act of infringement. Here it was shown that Dr Appanna knew that the infringing act of the sale of the products would occur, had the power to prevent those acts and was under a duty to interfere but failed to do so.

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