A pro-choice ruling

Once in a while, a complex and long-lasting patent case gives rise to a simple and straightforward ruling.

Only longtime readers having an exceptional memory will remember that, a few years ago, I reported on a first cassation ruling in a Time Sport International v. Décathlon France et al. case. This ruling dealt with a priority issue.

It turns out that another cassation ruling has recently been issued in the same litigation. So this is one of these few never-ending cases in which the judiciary pingpong seems to go on eternally. Is it a bug or a feature of the French legal system? We may never know for sure.

Anyway, there is probably no need to go over the entire case in detail: as I said, the point made in this new ruling is quite simple and straightforward.

Suffice it to say that Time Sport International owns European patent No. EP 0682885 on a device for the adjustable occipital fixing of a helmet, and that Décathlon France and DHG Knauer were found to have infringed the French part of this patent. The only outstanding question is the computation of damages.

More innovation in the helmet business.

Damages were awarded to Time Sport by the Paris Cour d’appel in a judgment dated September 22, 2017 (corrected on May 4, 2018). Several amounts were awarded in consideration of different periods of time and defendants. The total amounted to more than 800,000 euros for Décathlon France, but (only) approximately 71,000 euros for Knauer.

The Cour de cassation, which only rules on points of law and does not reassess the facts, let the 2017 ruling stand for the most part, but took issue with one amount in particular, namely the one supposed to address Knauer’s infringement for the period running from November 1, 2007 to September 8, 2012.

Time Sport’s claim amounted to 1,754,483 euros. But the 2017 appeal ruling only granted them 28,620.90 euros. If the staff mathematicians are correct, this means that the court granted Time Sport 1.6% of what they asked for – obviously quite a disappointment for them.

The amount claimed by Time Sport was based on an expert’s report and was said to correspond to the profit made by Knauer. It seems that Knauer refused to communicate its sales figures relating to the infringing helmets to the expert, so that he made an estimate based on a minimum number of helmets sold by Knauer to Décathlon, on Décathlon’s average unit price and on Décathlon’s gross margin (not Knauer’s gross margin).

But the appeal judges noted that Knauer and Décathlon have different activities. Knauer is a manufacturer and wholesaler while Décathlon is a retailer. Therefore, the expert’s estimate based on Décathlon’s gross margin did not correctly reflect Knauer’s profits. As a result, the court decided that the damages should rather be computed by applying a 6% royalty rate to a certain turnover – how exactly this turnover figure was obtained is unfortunately not very clear to me when reading the judgment.

Time Sport argued in front of the Cour de cassation that this approach was incorrect.

The key provision here is article L. 615-7 Code de la propriété intellectuelle.

In the relevant version which was in force between October 30, 2007 and March 13, 2014, the article read:

To set the damages, the court takes into consideration the negative economic consequences suffered by the harmed party, including lost profits, the profits made by the infringer, and the moral prejudice caused to the right owner due to the infringement. 

However, the court may, as an alternative and upon request of the harmed party, award a lump sum as damages, which cannot be lower than the amount of royalties or rights which would have been due if the infringer had asked for a permission to use the right which was infringed.  

The amended version of the article currently in force is not much different from this one.

In summary there are at least three modes of computation laid out in the statute (leaving aside the moral prejudice aspect, which rarely gives rise to significant indemnification): the first one based on negative economic consequences for the IP right owner, the second one based on the infringer’s profits and the third one which is royalty-based.

The Cour d’appel applied the third one.

But these different modes of computation are not equally available to the court. In particular, the phrase underlined above shows that the third modality has to be requested by the plaintiff.

The Cour de cassation confirmed that there is no getting around the underlined phrase, and that the plaintiff indeed has the right to choose whether or not to be indemnified by way of a royalty:

The Cour d’appel, by ruling thusly, by refusing to take into account the indemnification claim based on one of the evaluation criteria set in article L. 615-7, first paragraph […] and by awarding the amount of royalties which would have been due to Time Sport if there had been a permission to work the patent, although a claim for enhanced royalties had not been filed, violated this provision by refusing to apply the first paragraph and by wrongly applying the second paragraph. 

The case is therefore again remitted to the (regular) appeal level to have this portion of the damages award reassessed.

This cassation ruling can be viewed as a useful clarification – although, frankly, I would say the provision at stake in the Code de la propriété intellectuelle was in fact clear enough.

What remains fuzzy to me is how the court should “take into account” both the first and second modes of computation (negative economic consequences and infringer’s profits). I am not sure the case law is crystal-clear in this respect (see also this previous post on the same topic).

What is also somewhat fuzzy is what happens if the defendant refuses to open its account books, as seems to have been the case here. Wouldn’t it be logical in such a situation for the court to simply follow the plaintiff’s estimate?


CASE REFERENCE: Cour de cassation, chambre commerciale, March 17, 2021, Time Sport International v. DHG Knauer GmbH et al., appeal numbers 17-28.221 & 18-19.206.

Paris, Texas

Sometimes, French patent litigation can have the distinct flavor of a road movie.

OK, you may not get to travel that much: the plot usually takes place in Paris all along, from one courtroom to the next, from first instance to appeal and then cassation and sometimes back down to appeal. In fact, until very recently, all of these courtrooms used to be concentrated in a very small area – the Ile de la Cité.

But imagination has journeys of its own. And when a litigant called Texas ends up being stuck in Paris for a number of years, what can you do, pictures of a desert come to mind. This is just how evocative some titles are.

So, two years ago, I wrote a post on this road movie of a sort, Carrera & Texas de France v. Muller. 

Can there be such a thing as free infringement, is the question I asked on that occasion. And I wondered whether the Cour de cassation would have to weigh in. Well it did, and the time has thus come to revisit the question.

As a reminder of the background of the case, Muller & Cie holds a European patent on a heating element for a heating or cooking apparatus. Carrera and Texas de France were found guilty of infringement of this patent by the Paris Tribunal de grande instance (TGI) in 2014. This verdict was confirmed on appeal. In parallel, the TGI issued a second judgment on the computation of damages: Carrera and Texas were condemned to pay Muller damages of respectively 327,733 euros and 280,130 euros for Muller’s commercial prejudice, plus 100,000 euros for moral prejudice.

The defendants appealed, and the Paris Cour d’appel completely changed course in December 2016, setting the amount of damages to zero euro.

The case went up to the Cour de cassation. The court dismissed various challenges of the appeal ruling regarding the appraisal of sufficiency of disclosure, claim interpretation and a request for information. But the real interesting part is the discussion on the damages award – or rather, on the lack thereof.

First, we need to go back to the reasoning of the Cour d’appel:

  • Muller claimed damages amounting to an apportionment of the entire infringer’s profits (successfully so in first instance).
  • However, the appeal judges held that infringer’s profits can only be taken into account in the context of the assessment of a commercial prejudice. The confiscation of the infringer’s profits is not an alternative option which would be available to the plaintiff instead of claiming the compensation of a commercial prejudice.
  • In the case at hand, Muller did not personally exploit the patent. The patent was rather exploited through six licensed subsidiaries, which were not parties to the proceedings.
  • Therefore, said the Cour d’appel, the sole proper methodology for assessing damages was the so-called indemnifying royalty, because the only profits lost by Muller were a lost royalty.
  • But since Muller did not ask for such indemnifying royalty, the court could not grant this remedy – and thus could not take into account infringer’s profits either.
  • Finally, Muller’s claim based on a moral prejudice was held to be insufficiently substantiated.

This last bullet point did not raise the cassation judges’ eyebrows. They simply noted that it was within the Cour d’appel’s power to determine whether the count of moral prejudice was sufficiently substantiated or not.

But the supreme court struck down the part of the judgment dismissing Muller’s claim based on the infringer’s profits.

The quest for infringer’s profits is not unlike that of Leprechaun gold.

Here is a working translation of the key paragraph of the judgment, broken down into shorter sentences as always:

[The court] refused to take into consideration the claim for damages based on one of the assessment criteria provided in article L. 615-7 par. 1 of the Code de la propriété intellectuelle. However, in view of the case law of the Court of justice of the European Union, Directive 2004/48/EC aims at providing a high level of protection of intellectual property rights, which takes into account the specificity of each case and is based on a mode of computation of damages corresponding to such specificity (CJEU, March 17, 2016, Liffers, C-99/15, item 24), the choice of which belongs to the harmed party. Therefore, the existence of an economic prejudice for the patent proprietor resulting from the infringement is not subject to the proviso that the proprietor personally exploits. Thus, the Cour d’appel breached the law. 

This is a rather important ruling. If we go back for a minute to article L. 615-7, there is no denying that its wording is not crystal clear in terms of which options are available to the plaintiff:

In order to set damages, the court separately takes into account:

1° Negative economic consequences of the infringement, including lost profits and losses suffered by the harmed party;

2° Moral prejudice inflicted to said party;

3° And profits made by the infringer, including savings on intellectual, material and promotional investments made owing to the infringement.

However, the court may, alternatively and upon request of the harmed party, grant a lump sum in terms of damages. This lump sum is higher than the amount of royalties or rights which would have been due if the infringer had asked for the authorization to use the right that it infringed. This sum does not exclude the further indemnification of the moral prejudice of the harmed party.  

What this Texas ruling means is that a patent proprietor has the right to choose its mode of damages computation, and in particular has the right to rely on option 3° regardless of whether they work the patent or not.

Overall, this is good news for IP right holders, as it gives them more flexibility in their argumentation and assessment of damages.

But that’s not to say that all is said and done on this issue. Article L. 615-7 recites that the court should “take into account” various factors, including the “profits made by the infringer“. Does this mean that the plaintiff is entitled to recover the full profits made by the infringer? Or only part of those?

I am not sure this is settled law. So again, and just as I wrote two years ago, I am looking forward to the next scene of the movie.


CASE REFERENCE: Cour de cassation, chambre commerciale, January 23, 2019, Carrera & Texas de France v. Muller et Cie, appeals No. R 16-28.322 & A 17-14.673.

Free infringement

Infringement proceedings are a thing of many possible metaphors, and one of them may be an assault course. Invalidity defenses, non-infringement arguments, burden of proof issues, procedural traps are some of the hurdles that a plaintiff has to go over along the way.

So, after climbing up so many walls, nets and ropes, it is really too bad when the plaintiff falls into a muddy pit just before the finish line. In the case at hand, the muddy pit was the assessment of damages.

Pick your track to a judicial win.

On March 20, 2014, the Paris Tribunal de grande instance (TGI) held that the two companies Carrera and Texas de France had committed acts of infringement of European patent EP 1067822 directed to a heating element for a heating or cooking apparatus, owned by Muller & Cie.

The court pronounced a permanent injunction against the defendants and ordered that they should provide accounting information regarding the infringing devices in order to make it possible to compute damages.

This judgment was confirmed by the Paris Cour d’appel on September 6, 2016. In the meantime, in view of the accounting information filed by the defendants, the TGI issued a second judgment dated January 14, 2016, in which Carrera and Texas de France were condemned to pay Muller damages of respectively 327,733 euros and 280,130 euros for Muller’s commercial prejudice, plus 100,000 euros for its moral prejudice.

The defendants appealed, which leads us to today’s judgment, issued on December 9, 2016.

In short, the appeal judges set aside the decision of January 14, 2016 and set the total amount of damages to… zero euro. How is this even possible, since acts of infringement were indeed committed?

The answer is that the legal basis for Muller’s computation of damages was held to be incorrect, and no alternative, legally correct computation seems to have been proposed by the plaintiff.

The method for the computation of damages is set in article L. 615-7 Code de la propriété intellectuelle:

In order to set damages, the court separately takes into account:

1° Negative economic consequences of the infringement, including lost profits and losses suffered by the harmed party;

2° Moral prejudice inflicted to said party;

3° And profits made by the infringer, including savings on intellectual, material and promotional investments made owing to the infringement.

However, the court may, alternatively and upon request of the harmed party, grant a lump sum in terms of damages. This lump sum is higher than the amount of royalties or rights which would have been due if the infringer had asked for the authorization to use the right that it infringed. This sum does not exclude the further indemnification of the moral prejudice of the harmed party.  

The current wording of the article derives from the implementation of the enforcement directive 2004/48/EC, with a later modification in 2014. And it is not really crystal clear.

Computation of damages based on the “negative economic consequences” of the infringement is a conventional and well-delineated exercise.

On the other hand, how “profits made by the infringer” are to be “taken into account” by the court is not self-evident. It is also not so clear whether the plaintiff has full discretion to rely on the alternative lump sum calculation, or whether, in some circumstances, it is mandatory to rely on one assessment method or the other.

If we focus first on the issue of how infringer’s profits are to be “taken into account“, one way to interpret this provision would be to consider that the infringer’s profits may be awarded to the claimant as an alternative to loss profits damages. Another way would be to consider that the infringer’s profits are merely a modulating factor in the assessment of loss profits.

In the present case, Muller put forward a radical theory – successfully so in first instance, i.e. that the entire infringer’s profits should be awarded to the patent proprietor. However, this method was fully discarded at the appeal stage.

The Cour d’appel noted that Muller did not personally exploit the patent. The patent was exploited through six licensed subsidiaries, which tried to intervene in the infringement proceedings. However, the respective license agreements were not registered with the French patent register, so that they were not enforceable against third parties. Accordingly, the claims brought by the six licensees were previously held inadmissible in the initial 2014 judgment – and the unregistered licensees did not appeal.

In this particular context, the Cour d’appel deemed that the sole proper methodology for assessing damages was the so-called indemnifying royalty provided in the last paragraph of article L.615-7:

[Muller] does not claim the payment of the indemnifying royalty which was however rightly mentioned by the appellant, but this mode of compensation should be applied in this case. This royalty indeed corresponds to the percentage of the turnover that Muller could have claimed from the two companies sued for infringement, if the authorization to exploit the patent that it owns had been requested, with an additional penalty to take into account the existence of the wrongful acts committed against it. 

But again, Muller did specifically not claim an indemnifying royalty. Muller argued that the words “upon request of the harmed party” in article L. 615-7 meant that this mode of calculation was not mandatory. The court concurred and stated that it “could not validly impose such a mode of compensation of its economical prejudice” on Muller. But this turned out to be a self-inflicted wound, as the sole mode of compensation put forward by Muller was not acceptable according to the court, for the two following reasons:

  • first, Muller did not personally suffer any lost profits;
  • second, the infringer’s profits may not be claimed by the plaintiff in the absence of lost profits.

As to the first reason, Muller argued that, although it had not directly suffered lost profits, there were lost profits for the overall Muller group. The court replied that Muller could not possibly claim lost profits suffered by other companies, namely the six licensees, which are distinct legal entities (in fact, it seems that it was not even properly demonstrated that they were part of the same group as Muller). The licensees’ claims were held inadmissible by the TGI, and they did not appeal. Thus, only Muller’s personal lost profits could possibly be compensated.

Yet, no lost royalties were claimed by Muller. On the one hand, the six licenses were apparently royalty-less, so that Muller did not personally lose money due to the licensees’ possible lost sales. On the other hand, Muller could have relied on a depreciation of the invention’s value due to the infringement, but did not do so. Here, the court cruelly noted: “again, it is not the court’s task to compensate an item of prejudice in the absence of a claim from the owner of the right in this respect“.

Then comes the second point on the infringer’s profits. Says the court:

In addition, it is true that the law of October 29, 2007, transposing the 2004/48 directive, provides that the judge should take into account the “profits made by the infringer”. But it did not introduce a possibility to confiscate them into the statute. Said taking into account is limited to the part which may remain, once the losses related to the exploitation have been assessed, in order to achieve a full compensation of the prejudice. 

In other words, according to this court, the infringer’s profits can only be taken into account in the context of the assessment of a commercial prejudice. The confiscation of the infringer’s profits is not an alternative option which would be available to the plaintiff instead of claiming the compensation of a commercial prejudice.

Consequently, Muller’s claim for damages was simply rejected. The court noted in passing that the permanent injunction, which remains in place, is a proper sanction in this case anyway.

The last nail in the coffin was the rejection of Muller’s claim based on the moral prejudice which was said to be insufficiently substantiated.

All in all, this is a tough decision for the patentee, although we can have a feeling that the court was irritated by its behavior. For instance, there is a remark that the patentee obtained evidence of the infringement as soon as July 2009 owing to a bailiff’s report but waited until May 2011 to file its complaint.

It remains to be seen whether the Cour de cassation will have to rule on the Cour d’appel’s interpretation of the legal provision on the apportionment of the infringer’s profits.

In the meantime, one take-away message can be that the best practice for a patent proprietor is certainly to claim an indemnifying royalty, if only as an auxiliary request. Indeed, this should always be a possible option. Better safe than sorry.


CASE REFERENCE: Cour d’appel de Paris, pôle 5 chambre 2, December 9, 2016, SARL Carrera & SAS Texas de France v. SA Muller et Cie, RG No. 16/02891.

Damage control

Sometimes, a case is not over even after it is lost. This is especially true when a defendant is found guilty of patent infringement but the amount of damages is not yet determined in the infringement ruling. It is then still time to continue fighting for damage control. And this can pay off, like in the present case, where the total damages award amounted to approximately 7% of what the plaintiffs requested. That is, if my math is correct because the ruling contains so many figures that it is quite easy to lose track.

An example of not-too-bad damage control.
An example of not-too-bad damage control.

The story started a while ago, more precisely in June 2005, when Hutchinson, owner of European patent No. EP 0691481 (on a connecting rod for vehicles), together with its subsidiary and licensee Paulstra, sued two companies, CF Gomma Barre Thomas and Paul Robert Industrie, for infringement of the patent. CF Gomma Barre Thomas entered insolvency proceedings later in the same year, so that the infringement proceedings continued against the court-appointed receiver. In 2007, after another infringement seizure, a third company was added as a defendant, namely Société des Polymères Barre Thomas (later renamed as Cooper-Standard France).

In June 2009, the Paris Tribunal de grande instance (TGI) declared the patent valid but rejected all infringement claims. Hutchinson and Paulstra appealed.

In October 2011, the Cour d’appel confirmed that the patent was valid but set aside the first instance judgment as far as infringement is concerned: claims 1, 2, 4 and 5 of the patent were held to be infringed. The appeal ruling appointed an expert for determining the amount of damages.

A cassation appeal was lodged, and the supreme court judges partly canceled the 2011 judgment, because the finding of infringement of dependent claims 2, 4 and 5 was not sufficiently reasoned. However, this partial cancellation left intact the main findings of the 2011 judgment – in terms of validity of the patent and infringement of the main claim.

This leads us to the second ruling by the Paris Cour d’appel in 2016, after the expertise, on the assessment of damages.

Not exactly a fun read – unless you are an accountant, that is. But an important one, as this is the point at which the lawsuit finally has an actual impact on the various companies’ finances.

The guidelines for the assessment of damages are set forth in article L. 615-7 of the Code de la propriété intellectuelle:

In order to assess damages, the court shall separately take into account: 

1. Negative economic consequences of infringement, including lost profits and actual losses incurred by the harmed party. 

2. Moral prejudice. 

3. Profits made by the infringer, including intellectual, material and marketing investment savings deriving from the infringement. 

However, the court can alternatively, upon request of the harmed party, award a lump sum as damages. This lump sum is greater than the amount of royalties which would have been due if the infringer had asked for the permission to use the right that it infringed. This lump sum can be in addition to the indemnification of the moral prejudice.

A first issue raised by the defendants was whether the above (current) provision was applicable or not, given that it was modified in 2014. In particular the notion of “intellectual, material and marketing investment savings deriving from the infringement” was not recited in the earlier version of the law.

The court replied that the current provision is indeed applicable since the 2014 modification in fact did not change anything and did not add a new damages count; it is simply more explicit than the previous one.

A second issue was the definition of the perimeter of the infringing goods. Four models of connecting rods were mentioned in the infringement seizure reports of 2005 and 2007. These models were clearly to be taken into account in the assessment of damages. But the plaintiffs contended that six further models were also infringing and should also be taken into account.

The court disagreed. Indeed, the 2011 appeal judgment held that the first four models were infringing. Whether the six other models are also infringing or not was not decided upon. The 2011 ruling also contained an order not to make, market, and the like, any connecting rods identical or similar to the ones found to be infringing. However, this could not be seen as a basis for including the additional six models in the assessment:

This injunction, which guarantees that the monopoly right is restored to its state before the infringement, concerns the future and makes it possible if necessary to start further legal proceedings against an infringer who is then aware of the infringement. 

I have of course no idea whether the six additional models of connecting rods were similar or identical to the first four ones. But I think it is really a pity that the court did not find a way to rule on the additional infringement claim in this ruling (be it to hold that the new models infringe, do not infringe, or that there is not enough evidence of infringement). Telling the plaintiffs that they can start a new action does not seem satisfactory on the standpoint of efficiency, especially in view of the overall duration of the present proceedings.

The rest of the decision is concerned with the actual computation of damages, plaintiff by plaintiff, defendant by defendant, and period of time by period of time.

For the most part, the expert’s report was approved by the court.

By way of example, the plaintiffs contended that some accessories, such as fixation means, should also be included in the calculation, in view of the well-known doctrine of the “tout commercial” (which could be translated as the doctrine of the commercial package). The court rejected the contention, because there was no evidence that the accessories were sold as a consequence of the sale of the infringing connecting rods.

Paulstra claimed that it has suffered lost profits because they would have been able to make and sell all the connecting rods according to the invention marketed by the defendants. This point was accepted by the expert and the court.

However, the margin to be applied to the lost sales in order to compute loss profits was hotly debated.

Paulstra successively announced three different margins: 3%, 5.6% and finally 9.7%. They said the first two figures were erroneous: the first one concerned another equipment, and the second one concerned all connecting rods in general and not specifically those protected by the patent.

The court was (understandably) irritated by this flip-flopping and was not convinced that the initial figure was erroneous:

[The defendants] rightly stigmatize the behavior of Hutchinson and Paulstra, by emphasizing the contradictions in their successive statements, their inconsistency, and their lack of credibility, stating that this is due to their decision to prevent any control over Paulstra’s claims […]. The error alleged by Paulstra when the first rate of 3% was mentioned is indeed not credible, in view of the time that they took before replying to the expert, and of the importance of its “connecting rods” business. They necessarily knew what it was worth […].

Furthermore, the final figure of 9.7% was only supported by a statement by the company’s accounting director; and by a late-filed communication from an external auditor. The former was criticized by the expert as being a non-certified statement. The latter was disregarded by the court as it was too vague and imprecise, and not explicit enough.

As a result, the court applied a margin rate of 3% to Paulstra’s lost sales, also noting in passing that it is “the rate generally used in this type of product in the automobile industry“.

The moral prejudice suffered by the licensee Paulstra was calculated by the expert to be 125,000 euros. But the judges reduced this amount to zero. They held that there was no evidence that the defendants’ actions had harmed Paulstra’s reputation, as was alleged.

Turning to the patentee, Hutchinson first claimed lost profits due to Paulstra’s lost sales, because the patent was licensed to the subsidiary. Here, again, the court refused to take such lost profits into account:

It cannot be denied that a patent proprietor that does not exploit the invention but grants a license for its exploitation has the right to be awarded the profits it did not make because of the infringement. But it has to show that the alleged lost profits are real. 

In this respect, even if it is demonstrated that Hutchinson and its subsidiary Paulstra were bound by a lease management agreement, Hutchinson does not provide any evidence as to the profits earned owing to the license. […]

[…] [Hutchinson] relied on trade secret as the reason why no information was provided in this respect. But, during the expertise proceedings, they stated: “[…] these damages should no be calculated based on the contractual royalty that Paulstra would pay to Hutchinson. Indeed, Paulstra is only a subsidiary of Hutchinson, and it is not conventional, at least in terms of patentee-licensee relationships, to have such contractual royalty be paid between companies of a same group” […]. 

Since the very existence of the royalty was not demonstrated, the corresponding claim cannot succeed. 

Again, the claimants’ ambiguous statements certainly played against them. Half-admitting that there was no license royalties between Hutchinson and Paulstra while relying on trade secret not to say more was not a successful strategy for convincing the court that there were indeed lost profits to be recovered. Would the outcome have been different if Hutchinson had claimed the lump sum provided for in the last paragraph of article L. 615-7, which cannot be less than the royalties the infringer would have paid? I tend to think so.

Hutchinson was nevertheless awarded 60,000 euros (as estimated by the expert) in terms of moral prejudice. It is indeed generally accepted that patent infringement necessarily causes moral prejudice to the patent proprietor because the invention is depreciated.

On the other hand, Hutchinson lost again when they claimed the profits due to the infringers’ investment savings. They estimated such profits to be equal to 5% of the defendants’ connecting rod turnover. But the court held that the profits made by the defendants had already been taken into account in Paulstra’s damages; and that the claimed percentage, allegedly based on Hutchinson’s own spending, was not credibly substantiated, since it seemed to include other activities than those related to the patented invention.

In summary the total damages award for Hutchinson and Paulstra is 652,003 euros. Was the so far 11-year long litigation worth it? Of course the damages award is only part of the answer, as the claimants did get a permanent injunction which after all is the actual weapon of mass destruction in a patent war.

Anyway, the case strikingly illustrates that damages assessment is an endeavor of its own, sometimes underestimated by litigants. Just like for the assessment of validity and infringement, the court wants to see convincing evidence of whatever is asserted by the parties and will not satisfy itself with unsupported statements, let alone ambiguous ones.


CASE REFERENCE: Cour d’appel de Paris, Pôle 5, chambre 2, February 12, 2016, Hutchinson & Paulstra v. CF Gomma Barre Thomas et al., RG No. 09/13793.

Cook’in cooked

There is nothing like home-made food. Unfortunately, it seems like kitchens are never roomy enough to accommodate all those nice and fancy appliances for making soups, ice creams, bread, fondue and all that jazz. But as far as courtrooms go, some extra space can always be found for new kitchen appliance lawsuits.

In two previous posts, I discussed a case brought by Vorwerk & Co. Interholding GmbH against various companies responsible for the marketing of food processors of the MyCook brand in France. This case was indeed a good example of how patent infringement damages can be computed in our country.

It turns out that another case was also brought in parallel by the same company, based on the same patent, against other defendants (Guy Demarle Grand Public SAS et al.) responsible for the marketing of another food processor branded as Cook’in. Cook’in was held by the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance (TGI) as infringing Vorwerk’s patent, just like MyCook – although readers may recall that the appeal judgment on the merits in the MyCook case was set aside by the Cour de Cassation for procedural reasons, so that the Cour d’appel will have to reconsider the issue afresh.

The reasoning adopted by the TGI on the question of infringement in the Cook’in case is very similar to that previously adopted by the TGI and the Cour d’appel in the MyCook case. So, in a way, the recent Cook’in TGI decision is not really surprising; but the decision is a very interesting example of how the doctrine of equivalence is applied in France.

According to well-established case law, two technical means are deemed equivalent if they are of a different form, but perform a same function for a similar result. An additional condition is that the function in question must be protectable.

In this case, claim 1 of the patent reads as follows:

Kitchen machine with a stirrer vessel and a drive for an agitator in the stirrer vessel, wherein the stirrer vessel in its lower region can be heated up, wherein the stirrer vessel is covered by an inserted lid, characterised in that on the inserted lid is arranged a top piece which has a perforated bottom for preparation by steaming of foods, wherein the perforations are formed in a cooking material support of the bottom of the top piece and condensate or moisture formed is conducted back into the stirrer vessel.

This claim was not literally infringed by the Cook’in apparatus for the following reason, according to the court:

The Cook’in machine of the defendants differs from the kitchen machine of the patent in that it does not comprise a lid between the stirrer vessel and the perforated element for steam cooking. This latter element comprises a flange in its lower part on which a seal is arranged, which makes it possible to directly attach it on the stirrer vessel.

The court then made a comparison between how the Cook’in apparatus operates and how the patented machine operates and, applying the traditional test, came to the conclusion that the different technical means that are used did in fact have the same function for a similar result:

[…] Even though the Cook’in machine does not have the insertable lid as taught by claim 1 […], the embossed annular part of the vapor bowl associated with the seal disposed on the periphery provides a means of a [different] form which has the same function, namely ensuring that the cap is above the stirrer vessel, for the same result, i.e. making vapors rise from the stirrer vessel to the upper part of the cap through the dedicated openings and reintroducing the condensates into the stirrer vessel. 

Various arguments were put forward by the defendants in order to show that the Cook’in apparatus did not operate in the same way as the claimed invention, but those were not deemed persuasive by the court.

The defendants also argued that the “inserted lid” feature in claim 1 was an essential feature of the invention which necessarily had to be reproduced in order for the patent to be infringed.

The interesting point about this argument is that this feature of the “inserted lid” was not present in claim 1 as filed and was added during prosecution. So, can the doctrine of equivalence be used at all in this situation? Yes, said the court. The fact that a feature was added during prosecution does not preclude a finding of infringement by equivalence on this very feature:

Vorwerk modified its claim by adding a lid, and the EPO examiner considered that the arrangement of the steam cooking container over the lid was a novel and inventive arrangement. 

Nevertheless, such novelty and inventiveness were acknowledged relative to a prior art where the pierced basket for steam cooking was positioned below the lid. 

Therefore, what was considered as novel and inventive was not so much the presence of the lid, but rather the fact that the steam cooking part was positioned above the stirrer and heating vessel. 

Thus, the scope of claim 1 does not prevent a possible infringement despite the absence of the intermediate lid, if it is established that the means of the Cook’in machine have the same functions for the same result as those of the patent. 

The analysis made by the court here relates to the second part of the equivalence test set forth above, i.e. whether the function of the equivalent means was “protectable“. In the present case, it seems that the function was protectable because the general idea of having a steam cooking recipient arranged above a stirrer vessel was a novel and inventive concept.

There are some devices in which the presence of a lid is absolutly essential.
There are some devices in which the presence of a lid is absolutly essential.

The bottom line of the court’s approach (which is indeed the traditional approach in France) is therefore to assess what the contribution of the invention to the art really is about. A third party’s product implementing the same inventive concept in a different manner will be held infringing, irrespective of the exact claim wording selected by the drafter.

Another interesting point to note about this decision is the computation of damages. Contrary to the parallel Vorwerk v. Taurus litigation, the court (in a different composition) did not appoint an expert but directly proceeded with the assessment of damages. The result of this assessment was similar but not exactly identical to the one made in Vorwerk v. Taurus.

The main point which was discussed was, again, the rate of the indemnifying royalty to be applied. The court was apparently unconvinced by the submissions of either party in this respect and therefore they preferred to rely on the expert’s report from the other case. Although the defendants were different and the infringing device was different, the rationale for determining the proper rate could indeed be applied in a similar manner.

The court noted that three options for the indemnifying royalty rate were offered by the expert, namely 1.5%, 3% and 4.5%. The court explicitly approved the methodology used by the expert, and then came up with its own figure without any clear justification:

In view of the above, in view of the profits made by the defendants, of the advantageous economic situation of [the defendants] due to the marketing of the patented invention without a license, the court can assess the harm suffered without granting the request for additional information, and the indemnifying royalty rate should be fixed to 4%.  

This figure of 4% does not correspond to any of the three options proposed by the expert in Vorwerk v. Taurus, although it is indeed within the expert’s range. But, more importantly, this is not the same figure as the one selected by the court in Vorwerk v. Taurus where a rate of 3% was ultimately chosen by the court! (Again, the composition of the court was different.) Unfortunately, there is no explanation as to why the Cook’in infringement is worth one third more than the MyCook infringement.

At the very least, this inconsistency should be a reminder that courts have a fairly wide discretionary power when it comes to determining the quantum of damages.


CASE REFERENCE: Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, 3ème chambre, 4ème section, July 2, 2015, Vorwerk & Co. Interholding GmbH v. SAS Guy Demarle Public et al., RG No. 12/11488.