Thursday, 2 December 2010

Summary judgment "rarely appropriate" in patent trials, judge reminds us

In case you missed it,  in this week's big patent case, Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd v Delta Airways Inc [2010] EWHC 3094 (Pat)Mr Justice Arnold summarised the principles applicable to summary judgments in general terms (as articulated by Lewison J in Easyair Ltd v Opal Telecom Ltd [2009] EWHC 339 (Ch)), then focused on their specific application to patent litigation. What he said was this:
Principles applicable to summary judgment applications

There is no dispute about these. ...[citing Easyair at [15]]
"... , the court must be careful before giving summary judgment on a claim. The correct approach on applications by defendants is, in my judgment, as follows:
i) The court must consider whether the claimant has a 'realistic' as opposed to a 'fanciful' prospect of success: Swain v Hillman [2001] 2 All ER 91;
ii) A 'realistic' claim is one that carries some degree of conviction. This means a claim that is more than merely arguable: ED & F Man Liquid Products v Patel [2003] EWCA Civ 472 at [8].
iii) In reaching its conclusion the court must not conduct a 'mini-trial': Swain v Hillman.
iv) This does not mean that the court must take at face value and without analysis everything that a claimant says in his statements before the court. In some cases it may be clear that there is no real substance in factual assertions made, particularly if contradicted by contemporaneous documents: ED & F Man Liquid Products v Patel at [10].
v) However, in reaching its conclusion the court must take into account not only the evidence actually placed before it on the application for summary judgment, but also the evidence that can reasonably be expected to be available at trial: Royal Brompton Hospital NHS Trust v Hammond (No 5) [2001] EWCA Civ 550.
vi) Although a case may turn out at trial not to be really complicated, it does not follow that it should be decided without the fuller investigation into the facts at trial than is possible or permissible on summary judgment. Thus the court should hesitate about making a final decision without a trial, even where there is no obvious conflict of fact at the time of the application, where reasonable grounds exist for believing that a fuller investigation into the facts of the case would add to or alter the evidence available to a trial judge and so affect the outcome of the case: Doncaster Pharmaceuticals Group Ltd v Bolton Pharmaceutical Co 100 Ltd [2007] FSR 63.
vii) On the other hand it is not uncommon for an application under Part 24 to give rise to a short point of law or construction and, if the court is satisfied that it has before it all the evidence necessary for the proper determination of the question and that the parties have had an adequate opportunity to address it in argument, it should grasp the nettle and decide it. The reason is quite simple: if the respondent's case is bad in law, he will in truth have no real prospect of succeeding on his claim or successfully defending the claim against him, as the case may be. Similarly, if the applicant's case is bad in law, the sooner that is determined, the better. If it is possible to show by evidence that although material in the form of documents or oral evidence that would put the documents in another light is not currently before the court, such material is likely to exist and can be expected to be available at trial, it would be wrong to give summary judgment because there would be a real, as opposed to a fanciful, prospect of success. However, it is not enough simply to argue that the case should be allowed to go to trial because something may turn up which would have a bearing on the question of construction: ICI Chemicals & Polymers Ltd v TTE Training Ltd [2007] EWCA Civ 725."
This summary was cited with approval by Etherton LJ (with whom Wilson and Sullivan LJJ agreed) in AC Ward & Son v Catlin (Five) Ltd [2009] EWCA Civ 1098, [2010] Lloyds Rep IR 301 at [24].
Summary judgment in patent cases

It is common ground that summary judgment is rarely appropriate in patent cases. The reasons for this were explained by Dillon LJ in Strix Ltd v Otter Controls Ltd [1991] FSR 354 and Aldous LJ in Monsanto & Co v Merck & Co [2000] RPC 77.
In Strix Dillon LJ (with whom Croom-Johnson LJ agreed) said at 357-358:
"The difficulty that arises where it is sought to strike out a patent action on the ground that there is no arguable case of infringement arises because the construction of a patent, though a question of law for the court, is not a mere question of the judge reading the patent with the assistance of the legal arguments of counsel; it is a much more sophisticated exercise for two reasons. First the language of the patent is deemed to have been addressed by the inventor not to a panel of equity draftsmen but to 'the man skilled in the art', and consequently the court has to consider what the language of the patent would mean not to lawyers, but to the man skilled in the art with his knowledge of the art. Secondly it has long been established that a person does not avoid infringing a patent if he departs from the strict requirements of the claims by what the man skilled in the art would recognise as an 'obviously immaterial variant' – (to adopt a phrase conveniently used by Nicholls LJ in Anchor Building Products Ltd v Redland Roof Tiles Ltd [1990] RPC 283)."
In Monsanto Aldous LJ (with whom Auld LJ agreed) said at 92:
"I do not believe that the judge was right to conclude that the alternative case put forward by the patentees is unarguable upon the assumed facts. Despite the view as to the meaning of claim 20 which I have expressed above, it would not be right, at this stage of the action, to come to any concluded view as to the ambit of claim 20. The patent must be construed as a whole and the claims interpreted according to the Protocol on Interpretation. The subject of the specification is complicated. To come to a concluded view, the mantle of a man skilled in the art must be adopted. That will require the aid of expert evidence. The words of Dillon LJ in Strix v. Otter Controls Ltd which I have quoted, are in my view just as apt today after the Civil Court Practice Rules [sic] came into force as they were when the Rules of the Supreme Court were applicable."
Patent litigants are well advised to read and reread these paragraphs before seeking summary judgment in England and Wales, particularly if the judge is Arnold J ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Breaking news - leave to appeal granted on 2nd December. But surely there can be no hope fir such an appeal? Arnold J construed the patent. He most certainly did not get that wrong - the words are plain on the page. What is there to appeal?