CJEU Referral on Preliminary Injunctions by the Munich I District Court

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The 21st Civil Chamber of the Munich I District Court has referred a question on the availability of preliminary injunctions against patent infringements to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg (Munich I District Court docket no. 21 O 16782/20, decision of 19 January 2021).

Key takeaways

  • The Munich I District Court has referred a question to the CJEU on whether the current standard for granting preliminary injunctions in patent litigation should be lowered.
  • The Munich judges indicate that the current standard imposes an undue burden on patentees, especially for newly issued patents.

IN DEPTH

Background

Granting a preliminary injunction requires a sufficient likelihood that the asserted patent is valid. Under current German appellate case law however, it is usually not sufficient to meet that standard by simply showing that the asserted patent has been granted by a respective patent office. Rather, with certain exceptions only, it is required that validity has been confirmed in inter partes invalidity proceedings (i.e., in opposition proceedings before the European Patent Office or the German Patent and Trademark Office, or in nullity proceedings before the Federal Patent Court). In the opinion of the Munich I District Court, this standard may impose an undue burden on patentees in view of the European Directive 2004/48/EC on the enforcement of intellectual property rights. The Munich judges reason that first, it would be difficult to enforce newly granted patents. Second, a patentee has little influence on whether validity of his patent will be challenged by third parties.

At the same time, and as mentioned by the Munich I District Court, it is widely accepted that there are exceptions that apply to the basic rule that that validity should first be confirmed in inter partes invalidity proceedings. For example in the landmark “Olanzapine” case, the Düsseldorf Appeal Court issued a preliminary injunction based on a patent that had been invalidated in first instance nullity proceedings, while an appeal in the invalidity proceedings was pending. Therefore, while the relevant patent had not survived first instance invalidity proceedings, a preliminary injunction was granted.

The question referred

The Munich I District Court referred the following question to the CJEU:

Is it in line with Article 9(1) of Directive 2004/48/EC for the Higher Regional Courts having jurisdiction at final instance in proceedings for interim relief to refuse in principle to grant interim measures for infringement of patents if the patent in dispute has not survived opposition or nullity proceedings at first instance?

Practice Note:

It will be interesting to follow the further development in connection with this referral, as the implications of the CJEU decision are likely to be far-reaching. The Munich referral may lead to new enforcement opportunities and strategies for patentees. At the same time, the Munich referral is in tension with current reform of German patent law which, if enacted, will emphasize a hurdle for injunctions, namely that injunctions must not be disproportionate.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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