ECJ declares German court practice regarding the (non-)granting of preliminary injunctions arising from patents to be contrary to European law
As already reported in a June 2021 article in our B&B Bulletin, the Munich Regional Court has asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to rule on whether the German court practice regarding preliminary injunctions in cases of patent infringement is compatible with European law.
The issue here is that German higher regional courts (most recently including the Munich Higher Regional Court) regularly refuse to issue a preliminary injunction on the grounds of patent infringement if the validity of the patent in question has not already been confirmed in opposition or nullity proceedings. In this case, the successful examination procedure before the German Patent and Trademark Office or the European Patent Office is not considered sufficient to assume that the legal validity of the patent is certain. As a consequence, patent owners were regularly unable to obtain a preliminary injunction against an infringer unless third parties had previously (unsuccessfully) attacked the patent in question Therefore, this possibility of legal action ultimately depended on factors over which the patent owner had no control.
In view of the fact that the effect of a patent takes effect upon grant, the Munich Regional Court considered this practice to violate the right of the patent proprietor to effective interim measures, which arises from Union law (namely Directive 2004/48). At the same time, in the case on which the decision was based, the Munich Regional Court saw itself prevented by the binding effect of case law of the Munich Higher Regional Court from issuing a preliminary injunction, although it assumed both patent infringement and validity of the patent.
This situation prompted the Munich Regional Court to submit the practice of the Munich Higher Regional Court (and other higher regional courts) to review by the ECJ. In its judgment of April 28, 2022 (Case C-44/21), the ECJ has now clarified that a court practice is incompatible with European law whereby the grant of interim measures for infringement of patents is in principle refused if validity of the patent in question has not been confirmed at least in first instance opposition or nullity proceedings.
Furthermore, the ECJ clarified that national courts are obliged to modify any established case law contrary to this assessment, if necessary. In particular, the Munich Regional Court must not apply national case law that is incompatible with the ruling.
In principle, the ECJ thus significantly strengthens the rights of patent owners in preliminary injunction proceedings before the German courts. However, it remains to be seen how this will be reflected in judicial practice.