Quel dommage – part 1

As interesting as revocation verdicts may be, patents are sometimes found valid and even infringed.

In such a case, a court in France has two main options for determining the amount of damages: either they decide on the quantum in the same ruling in which the patent is found valid and infringed, or they decide on validity and infringement first and then appoint an expert with the task of making a recommendation to them; it is in view of the expert’s report and of further submissions of the parties that the court then determines the quantum.

Damages computation tends to be more detailed and better reasoned in cases of the second category than cases of the first category. Therefore, I thought it would be interesting to have a closer look at one recent case where use was made of an expert, as an example of computation methodology.

On January 11, 2011, the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance (TGI) held that Electrodomesticos Taurus SL and other codefendants infringed a European patent owned by Vorwerk & Co. Interholdings GmbH by inter alia importing food processors of the brands Mycook and Mycook Pro into France and marketing those on French territory. The TGI appointed an expert and entrusted him with the task of estimating the proper amount of damages.

This second part of the procedure led to another judgment handed down on September 26, 2014 – yes, this is three and a half years later I am afraid. In this judgment, Vorwerk was awarded 127,367 euros of damages corresponding to lost profits, and 6,255 euros corresponding to financial harm. However, since they had already been awarded 310,000 euros as a provision on damages, they in fact had to pay the difference back to the defendants.

This is probably not the end of the story though, since:

  • there may be an appeal pending further to the ruling of September 26, 2014 (any information that readers may have on this question would be welcome);
  • although the initial validity and infringement verdict was confirmed on appeal on February 15, 2013, the Cour de cassation (supreme court) set aside the appeal judgment on November 25, 2014, due to some procedural violation during the appeal proceedings, and remitted the case back to the Cour d’appel in a different composition.

So, on the procedural standpoint, this is a relatively unusual and interesting situation indeed.

Anyway, let’s go back to this amount of damages of 127,367 euros and how it was reasoned by the court.

Vorwerk had not been working the patent itself – although other companies of the same group had apparently been. Therefore, the “lost profits” that they claimed were in fact lost royalties.

In order to assess these lost royalties, a classical two-step process was applied: first, the turnover generated by the infringement (or “infringing mass”) was calculated; second, the royalty rate was assessed.

As to the first step, the court defined the starting point and the end point of the period of time during which infringement took place. The end point was the date of the first judgment on validity and infringement. The plaintiff requested that posterior acts be also taken into account but this request was denied since such posterior acts were prohibited by the injunction pronounced in the first judgment, so that any breach of the injunction should give rise to specific remedies (to be recovered in different proceedings).

The starting point was taken to be three years prior to the commencement of the legal proceedings against the defendants, in keeping with the French statute of limitation (the limitation period has now been extended to 5 years according to new legislation).

One interesting defense raised by some of the codefendants was that they were not “direct infringers so that the starting point should be postponed as far as they were concerned. Under French law, manufacturers or importers of infringing products are defined as direct infringers and are therefore liable for the infringement regardless of whether they were aware of it. In contrast, distributors, users or marketers of infringing products are liable only insofar as they are aware of the infringement – provided that they are different from the manufacturers / importers.

Here, there were four codefendants: two Spanish companies and two French companies. The two French companies argued that they were not direct infringers, and therefore were only liable when they became aware of the infringement, that is when legal proceedings were started against them.

This argument was unsuccessful, as the court did not want to make any difference between the defendants:

It obviously derives from the judgment of January 14, 2011 that the court held Taurus France and Lacor Export [the French companies] liable for the importation acts and did not distinguish their case from that of Taurus Spain and Lacor Spain [the Spanish companies].

Besides, even though these companies are incorporated under French law and are located in France, it results from the statements provided by the defendants to the expert that Taurus France exclusively buys from Taurus Spain, and that Lacor Export handles order placed in France for Lacor Spain, so that they are co-authors of the acts of importation.

Therefore they are liable regardless of any awareness. Consequently, the starting point for the infringement period should be three years prior to the commencement of legal proceedings against each company, as posited by the expert.

The exact date of the starting point was not the same for all companies as legal proceedings were started against them at different points in time, but the take-away message here is that indirect infringers (such as marketers or distributors) having close ties with direct infringers (manufacturers or importers) are not viewed as actual indirect infringers but rather as co-authors of the acts of direct infringement.

Then the court turned to the determination of which articles were infringing. Here, one issue was that some food processors were sold with a steam cooking cover while others were not. The court analyzed the first judgment and deduced from this judgment that the patent infringement was related to the presence of the steam cooking cover. Food processors sold without a steam cooking cover were not infringing. On the other hand, the defendants also marketed steam cooking covers independently of (the main part of) the food processors.

A steam cooking cover for humans.
A steam cooking cover for humans

The court decided that the number of infringing articles corresponded to the sum of (1) food processors sold with a steam cooking cover and (2) steam cooking covers sold separately. The court’s reasoning was that standalone steam cooking covers were necessarily meant to be used with food processors previously sold without a cover. Therefore, the sum of (1) and (2) should indeed be equal to the number of cover-equipped food processors held by end users.

Based on the definition of the relevant period of time and of the relevant articles, the court was able to compute the overall turnover generated by the infringement – based on the numbers provided in the expert’s report.

In the second post on this topic, we will look at the second main step of damages assessment, namely the computation of the royalty rate.

CASE REFERENCE: Tribunal de grande instance de Paris, 3ème chambre, 2ème section, September 26, 2014, Vorwerk & Co. Interholding GmbH v. Electrodomesticos Taurus SL, Lacor Export, Lacor Menaje Profesional SL & Taurus France. RG No. 2008/10729.

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