• Europe is taking its own shot at patent reform. The European Parliament (the legislative body of the European Union) passed a resolution on December 10 that will create a new patent regime in all of its 27 member states
One significant change is that securing patent protection in Europe will become easier and cheaper. Under the new system, inventors will be able to apply for “unitary patents” enforceable in 25 member states (the holdouts are Spain and Italy). Patent applications can be written in English, French, or German. The European Commission (the E.U.’s executive body) estimates that the average cost of obtaining a unitary patent will be $6,144. Under the E.U.’s current system, securing patent protection across Europe means applying for validation in each of the E.U.’s member states. The average cost hovers around $46,000, including translation costs and filing fees.
The other big change is that, for the first time, there’ll be a single patent court for all of Europe. That court—the Unified Patent Court—will have venues in London, Munich, and Paris. An appellate court will be based in Luxembourg (think of it as the European version of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit). “There will, for the first time, be a unified body of European patent law,” Ropes & Gray partner Edward Kelly told us. “An appeals court will be setting jurisprudence on infringement, damages, and the standard for injunctions.”
Ropes partner Charles Larsen, who is a U.K. solicitor, added, “I think it’ll be harder to enforce weak patents.” Under the E.U.’s current system, owners of flimsy patents can hope to survive a court challenge in at least one member state. Once the reforms go into effect, targets of patent suits will be able to ask the UPC to deliver a single knock-out blow. “You won’t have the country-by-country patchwork,” Larsen said.
Three countries—the United Kingdom, Germany, and France—still have power to veto the bill. We don’t expect that to happen, since, under the new legislation, all three countries will get an economic boost from hosting a UPC courthouse.
• Two unrelated jury trials against Apple Inc. came to a close within hours of each other on Thursday, with mixed results for the company.
First, a U.S. district court jury in Wilmington returned a verdict that Apple infringes three smartphone patents owned by MobileMedia Ideas, a non-practicing entity that acquired the patents from Nokia Corporation and Sony Corporation. Damages will be determined separately. A Proskauer Rose team led by Steven Bauer represented MobileMedia, while Fish & Richardson and O’Melveny & Myers represented Apple.
Apple got better news later on Thursday, when a federal jury in San Diego found that the company and LG Electronics Inc. didn’t infringe data compression patents owned by Multimedia Patent Trust, an irrevocable trust created by Alcatel-Lucent. Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan partner Frederick Lorig, who represented MPT, had pegged Apple’s liability at $172 million and LG’s at $9 million. Both companies were defended by Fish & Richardson.
The inventions in the patents at issue were developed in the 1990s at Bell Labs, the famed research and development institution now owned by Alcatel-Lucent. In 2007, Alcatel-Lucent parlayed two other Bell Labs patents into a $1.5 billion jury verdict against Microsoft Corporation. That verdict got upended on appeal, and Microsoft eventually settled for an undisclosed amount. In light of that settlement, it’s no wonder that MPT tried to cash in on its Bell Labs patents before they expire in the coming years.
We last wrote about the MPT case in
in November, when Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe got client Canon Inc. dismissed from the case.
• Finally, AstraZeneca plc has preserved its monopoly on the blockbuster cholesterol drug Crestor thanks to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. In a 2-1
issued on Friday, a Federal Circuit panel upheld a district court ruling that AstraZeneca’s Crestor patents are valid. A slew of generic drug makers, including Aoptex Corporation and Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc., challenged the Crestor patents in hopes of marketing low-cost versions of the drug. Now-retired U.S. district judge Joseph Farnan Jr. ruled in favor of AstraZeneca in 2010, and the Federal Circuit has now affirmed. Charles Lipsey of Finnegan Henderson Farabow Garrett & Dunner argued for AstraZeneca.