Friday, 12 June 2009

Revocation proceedings not an abuse of process even if not commercially justified

In TNS Group Holdings Ltd v Neilsen Media Research Inc. [2009] EWHC 1160 (Pat), a decision of Mr Justice Arnold of 20 May, the Patents Court for England and Wales ruled that the Patents Act 1977, s.72(1), which states that "any person" may apply to revoke a granted patent, means exactly what it says. On this basis, the intention of a claimant in revocation proceedings is irrelevant and it is not therefore an abuse of process to bring a revocation action even if the applicant has no commercial reason to do so. In this case, the patent owner had offered the claimant a licence to use the patent (for television audience management measurement systems) on terms which -- though confidential -- must have been sufficiently attractive for the patentee to be able to argue that the plaintiff would be no better off if the patent were revoked than if it remained in force.

The judge went further: a claimant's declared intention to use validity decision in the United Kingdom as persuasive authority when seeking revocation in other European jurisdictions was legitimate, since consistency of decisions as between European jurisdictions is a desirable end. As he said (at para.26):
"It is commonplace for parties litigating on the same European patent in a number of Contracting States to put before the courts of one Contracting State decisions arrived at in one or more other Contracting States. I do not see that such conduct can possibly be stigmatised as an abuse of process. That is particularly so given that such judgments may come to the attention of courts in other Contracting States in any event. The courts of all the Contracting States are seeking to apply the same substantive law. It would be most unfortunate if anything were to be done which made it more difficult for the courts of the Contracting States to arrive at common answers to common questions".
Having so held, Arnold J in any event refused to stay the revocation action before him, pending the outcome of opposition proceedings in the European Patent Office since the EPO proceedings would take at least two years longer than a final decision in the UK courts.

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