Thursday, September 21, 2023

Unified Patent Court's Helsinki Local Division denies preliminary injunction request over patent opted out despite previously filed (and still pending) national litigation

As I predicted, the Unified Patent Court's Helsinki Local Division today denied an application for provisional measures (the equivalent of a preliminary injunction request) in AIM Sports v. Supponor. The plaintiff had opted out the patent-in-suit from the UPC system despite previously filed national litigation (UK, Germany) that is still pending (before the appeals courts). The four-judge panel found that the opt-out had preclusive effect on the patent's assertion in the UPC, an effect that could not be undone by later seeking to reverse the opt-out.

I attended the first part of the hearing and quickly saw that the motion was a long shot. Apparently the national injunctions that are in force have not served to strengthen AIM's competitive position, particularly with a view to an ongoing tender (which will come to its conclusion in a matter of months) by European soccer body UEFA for digital stadium perimeter advertising technology. This is a case between direct rivals, making a licensing-based settlement unlikely.

The funny coincidence is that I am actually now on my way to a soccer match (Brighton and Hove Albion vs. AEK Athens, a Europa League group stage match). That's why I didn't stay in Helsinki until the decision was announced at 4:30 PM local time (2:30 PM UK Time, 3:30 PM Central European Time).

Let me show you the judges. From left to right: Judge Samuel Granata (Belgium), Presiding Judge Petri Rinkinen (Finland), Judge Mélanie Bessaud (France), and Technical Judge Éric Augarde (France):

If the case had surmounted this procedural hurdle and other jurisdictional challenges, it would have raised the interesting question of a so-called springboard injunction, which is an injunction that prohibits commercial activity that benefits from prior infringing acts (while injunctions are normally just a prospective remedy in every respect).

But the court would have had other ways of disposing of the motion. For instance, the urgency part looked weaker than in last week's Vienna case (where the question wasn't resolved either) and UPC Munich case (one such case resulted in a preliminary injunction on Tuesday while a parallel case is under advisement, with Presiding Judge Dr. Matthias Zigann having said in open court that the question of urgency could be decided either way).

It is easy to understand why the Vienna and Helsinki Local Divisions resolved the PI requests based on only a single issue in each case. It is the fastest way to adjudicate a PI motion, and especially the "smaller" local divisions may prefer to leave it to the likes of Munich to decide legal questions of first impression, which will ultimately be adjudicated by the Court of Appeal anyway.

AIM was represented by four law firms (Roschier, Powell Gilbert, Rospatt, and--only by video conference--Noerr). Supponor's lead counsel was Hogan Lovells' Dr. Henrik Lehment, whose English rhetoric was concise, easy to follow, and persuasive. During the limited part of the hearing that I attended, he was the only lawyer to speak for the defendant, but that is not meant to discount the potential contributions made by Gleiss Lutz' Dr. Matthias Sonntag and Hannes Snellman's Panu Siitonen.

It remains to be seen whether AIM will appeal. I don't think an appeal is likely to turn this case around, but many people--judges and practitioners alike--would appreciate the clarification that it could provide.