Covid-19 IP Update: Impact on litigation (UPDATED)

Hogan Lovells

The Hogan Lovells IP & Media Technology team remains fully operational and working well remotely to support clients and to continue to provide our high-quality services. We are closely following the impact of Covid-19 on the operation of Courts around the world and what this means in practice for clients engaged in or contemplating litigation, with respect to upcoming hearings, deadlines, and limitation periods. We will keep you up to date on court guidance as it develops and share our expectations and experiences as we go through this challenging time.

Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)

The CJEU has announced​ temporary changes to its working arrangements. Judicial activity will continue, but priority will be given to those cases that are particularly urgent, such as urgent proceedings, expedited proceedings and interim proceedings. Procedural time limits for instituting proceedings and lodging appeals continue to run, but time limits prescribed in on-going proceedings – except for particularly urgent proceedings – are extended by one month. Until further notice, the time limits that are to be fixed by the registry will also be increased by one month. Hearings that are listed between now and 3 April 2020 are adjourned until a later date. Parties are asked to consult regularly the website of the CJEU (Curia). Once it has resumed its judicial activities as normal, the CJEU will contact representatives regarding the next stages of the proceedings.

France

By an implementation regulation issued on 16 March 2020, the Ministry of Justice has declared the closure of the courts, except for criminal and civil emergency services. This measure involves both the suspension of court hearings and the exceptional closure of courts registries.

On 18 March 2020, the Government also submitted a draft bill in order to urgently establish specific measures to face the Covid-19 epidemic. The Act is to be passed on 20 March 2020 by the Parliament. In accordance with the Bill, within a period of three months (starting retroactively from 12 March 2020) the Government will be able, in order to face the consequences linked to the spread of the Covid-19 virus, (i) to adapt deadlines applicable to declarations and claims presented to administrative authorities, (ii) to adapt, interrupt, suspend or postpone the expiry of the deadlines established under penalty of nullity, lapse, foreclosure, statute of limitations, unenforceability, termination of a measure or deprivation of a right, end of accreditation or authorization, termination of measure, except for measures of restraint, or any sanction or other effect, (iii) to adapt, rules concerning proceedings and judgements' deadlines.

Following a decision of the Director of the French patent and trademark office ("INPI") from 16 March 2020, deadlines applicable to designs, patents and trademarks proceedings before the Office, not yet expired on 16 March 2020, are increased to four months, except for deadlines applicable to trademarks opposition proceedings.

The Paris Bailiffs' Chamber is closed since 17 March evening and until 1 April 2020 included, in view of the national health context and the containments and restrictions measures implemented by the government. Combined with the closure of the Paris Judicial Court, this means no infringement seizure may be ordered for the time being.

Germany

In Germany the courts remain open for new filings and urgent matters will be handled. Judges are mostly working remotely, are available for calls and to give guidance to litigants over the phone.

As regards hearings that are scheduled for the imminent future, the courts have given different guidance. In the patent field, the Dusseldorf court has stated its intention to continue to hold some hearings but with appropriate precautions in place, while others are cancelled. The Munich District Court follows a similar approach. And the Hamburg court has limited oral hearings to urgent matters.

The Mannheim court has informed us that currently hearings scheduled until the end of the 16th calendar week (ending Friday 17 April 2020) are being cancelled and rescheduled for later this year. The expectation is, however, that the court will not resume its hearing schedule until later this year. New actions that are being filed are currently expected to be scheduled for a hearing within the first couple of months of 2021.

Japan

Most proceedings before the courts of Japan appear to be continuing as usual, at least for now. Under Japanese law, whether and how a hearing date is fixed or rescheduled ultimately depends on the judge or panel of judges in charge of the case.

However, the courts are encouraging parties and counsel who are due to attend a hearing to let the relevant court know if any attendee has any symptoms such as a fever. In such a case, the court will take a flexible approach and reschedule any relevant hearing dates, or take any other appropriate measures, in order to prevent further propagation of Covid-19. In addition, the courts have requested that any potential visitors to the court to refrain from doing so if they have any symptoms such as a fever. Most courts are instructing courtroom visitors to leave sufficient distance between individuals to minimise the propagation of Covid-19 in courtrooms.

Further, most courts are requesting their visitors (including those attending hearings) to let the court know if they need to appear in court but have health concerns (such as feeling unwell, being relatively older, or having an underlying disease). In that case, we reasonably expect that the court would make appropriate accommodations to the extent possible. Also, most courts are encouraging their visitors to wear masks while they are in a court building.

According to public media sources, while most civil proceedings are unlikely to be affected by the outbreak of Covid-19 at the moment, certain courts have instructed the postponement of jury trials that are to take place in criminal proceedings: the courts have considered it is not appropriate to ask a number of lay people to attend jury trials in the light of Covid-19.

Given the rapidly changing situation, the courts of Japan may adjust their position as appropriate. We recommend following the press releases of the courts and more general news sources in the coming days and weeks.

Mexico

The Mexican Supreme Court, all Federal, local and administrative courts closed last Wednesday March 18, 2020. So far, it is said they will resume work on April 20, 2020. They are only open to attend urgent matters. Therefore, no legal terms are running.

As the Mexican Trademark Office and Copyright Bureau are still open, actions related to trademark, patent and copyright infringements can still be filed as the first instance is carried out before them. Officers in charge of first instance cases can still be reached.

Netherlands

Proceedings on the merits in the Netherlands are continuing as normal as possible. This means that new cases can be filed and the exchange of written submissions continues as usual. Until 6 April, oral hearings are postponed unless high urgency demands otherwise. Oral hearings in such cases will not be open to the public, but a limited number of people from the procedural parties may attend. The Courts continue to render judgments.

Preliminary relief proceedings can still be filed. The Judge will strictly assess whether the case is sufficiently urgent given the current circumstances. In very urgent cases, the Judge may set an oral hearing date relatively quickly. If this hurdle is not met, then the request for preliminary relief proceedings will remain on file but the Judge will then not schedule a hearing date before 6 April. This will be assessed on a case by case basis.

Spain

The Spanish Government declared the state of alarm, aimed at facing the health emergency caused by the coronavirus COVID-19, by means of Royal Decree 463/2020, published in the State's Official Gazette before the midnight of Saturday 14 March 2020. The Royal Decree orders a lockdown of the country for a period of 15 calendar days (i.e. until 29 March), which may be extended, through the implementation of a number of measures under the Central Government's authority, including the suspension of the courts' deadlines -with few exceptions relating to urgent proceedings- during this period.

In an extraordinary meeting held on 14 March, in line with the declaration of the state of alarm, the General Council of the Judiciary agreed to the suspension throughout the national territory of the scheduled procedural acts, hearings and procedural deadlines while the state of alarm is in place, guaranteeing the essential services of the Administration of Justice -amongst others, criminal proceedings, labor-law proceedings and protection of fundamental rights-, which would not be affected by the suspension. Judges and courts may conduct and/or held any acts or procedures the suspension of which could cause irreparable damages, including preliminary injunctions. On 18 March, the General Council of the Judiciary has specifically limited the filing of briefs, which shall in any event be conducted electronically, to those related to urgent procedural actions that cannot be postponed.

The Courts' Governing Bodies in the different regions are also issuing their own guidelines for the practical application of the suspension measures. For instance, the Governing Body of the Madrid courts has issued a directive addressed to the Madrid Bar Association and to the Professional Association of Court Bailiffs of Madrid indicating that all briefs filed with the Madrid courts should be limited to those in relation to proceedings related to the essential services of the Administration of Justice.

UK

The position of HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and the Lord Chief Justice has developed, recognising that while the continued smooth running of UK courts is an essential public service, it can no longer be business as usual. This is particularly the case in light of the closure of UK schools and the need for at risk people to stay at home - it is recognised that this will have an immediate impact on the ability and willingness of people to attend court.

Accordingly, the default position in the civil courts - including for IP cases - is that hearings (including final hearings, hearings with contested evidence, and potentially appeals) should be conducted with one, more than one or all participants attending remotely. Otherwise, the Lord Chief Justice has stated that "there will be no hearings and access to justice will become a mirage". To this end, judges have been advised that they must make as much use of current technologies as possible, and HMCTS is working urgently to increase the capacity of technology available to the courts. In addition, many more procedural matters may now be resolved on paper.

Ultimately, the decision as to how a hearing is conducted is a matter for the judge, who will determine how best to uphold the interests of justice (including considering issues for both participants and public access arising from use of video/audio technology). We are already seeing this advice being implemented in practice, with a number of upcoming patent hearings being scheduled to be heard by telephone or Skype. Where it is not possible for a hearing to be heard remotely (including hearings for breach of an injunction), sensible precautions should be taken by those attending. Before adjourning any hearings, judges have been advised to explore with the parties the possibility for compromise to avoid an intolerable backlog if too much court business is simply adjourned.

The Law Society of England and Wales has indicated that it is discussing with HMCTS the possibility of all litigation deadlines (including limitation deadlines for issuing proceedings) being automatically suspended/extended for two to three months.

While the UK IP courts appear to be proactively following the new guidance, we recommend that if Covid-19 will make it difficult or impossible to comply with existing directions, clients should consider with their legal teams the need to agree with the other parties and/or ask the court for an order varying directions for hearing arrangements (such as to provide for attendance by video-link or phone) and/or varying upcoming deadlines.

U.S.

United States Federal Courts have been monitoring the national response to Covid-19, including guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Administrative Office of the United States Courts, and individual state departments of public health. Over the past week, courts have widely instituted orders to govern courtroom logistics, including mandates to postpone jury trials and in-person hearings in some jurisdictions. We have seen new orders being issued increasingly over the past few days, particularly in view of President Trump’s recent declaration of a National Emergency and the CDC’s recommendation to cancel events consisting of fifty people or more.

While the orders can vary by jurisdiction, most trial courts have postponed jury trials for several weeks, some over a month (into the first week of May). The trial court orders are subject to change as the situation evolves, but once jury trials are allowed to resume, criminal trials will generally be prioritized over civil trials, due to constitutional rights of criminal defendants to speedy trials. Thus, trials for IP cases may not resume until Summer of this year, or later. Additionally, in most jurisdictions, if the assigned trial judge believes a hearing is necessary, then the judge has been urged, or in some jurisdictions mandated, to conduct such hearings by telephone or video conference. Matters or issues that can be decided on the papers will generally continue to be handled as such.

For now, we have not seen the same level of restrictions for appeals courts. Mostly, oral hearings and arguments are being permitted to carry on as scheduled. We have, however, seen advisory notices and administrative orders issued restricting public access to certain appeals courts and allowing only counsel and parties to appear at the courthouse for their respective scheduled argument or hearing.

With court orders being instituted across the country, clients should be mindful that there will likely be new restrictions and limitations on in-person courthouse activities in the near term. We generally expect judges to be flexible with case rescheduling, as may be necessary and practicable on a case-by-case basis. Most of the restrictions we have seen so far, however, apply mostly to trials and in-person hearings. Already-pending case schedules and procedural rules establishing other deadlines (e.g., for motions, discovery, other written submissions) may not be suspended by these new administrative orders. The court in the Eastern District of Texas recently declined to extend discovery deadlines in a case in view of COVID 19 concerns, urging instead that the parties conduct depositions by video or other means. Therefore, it will be important for clients to consult with legal counsel to understand the specifics of any new directives in the jurisdictions for their respective cases.

How we can help

We hope that we will be able to overcome this emergency very soon and that we will be stronger than ever. We thank you for your support.

For further advice and insights to help your business respond to the legal and contractual challenges coronavirus presents, please visit our COVID-19 Topic Centre.

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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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