The two windowless courtrooms in which patent cases are heard in the Rhineland city of Mannheim may lack grandeur, but their decisions are thundering around the world.
Tucked away on the ground floor of the concrete-gray Mannheim District Court, the courtrooms are a major front in the global disputes over patents underlying smartphones and other popular digital devices. “If you ask people in Silicon Valley, they all know Mannheim and compare it to the Eastern District of Texas,” says Marcus Grosch, a Mannheim-based patent litigator with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan who has represented Google’s Motorola Mobility Division in the city’s patent courts. Lightning-quick resolution of patent infringement cases, of course, is the storied reputation of the Texas court. Patent litigators favor Mannheim because they say its courts are the swiftest in Europe for handling petitions for permanent injunctions. In recent years, companies suing in Mannheim court include, in addition to Motorola, such high-tech giants as Apple Inc., Samsung Electronics Co., and Microsoft Corporation.
Germany has a bifurcated system in which the claim for an injunction and a challenge to a patent’s validity move on separate tracks in different courts. The split system results in “the advantage of speed” on the injunction track in all German courts, notes Frank Peterreins, managing partner of Fish & Richardson’s Munich office. “The requirement is that a defendant committed an infringing act,” he says. “[If so] you can get an injunction.” Rarely is an injunction stayed while a patent’s validity is litigated to final judgment, which typically takes 18 months to two years in most German courts from the time an initial complaint is brought.
File suit in Mannheim, and you can obtain a permanent injunction in as little as eight months. A patent owner armed with an injunctive order, which can force an infringer to withdraw its product from Germany and thereby forfeit sales in Europe’s largest economy, wields a “very good pressure tool to make a defendant think intensely about settling a worldwide dispute,” says Tilman Müller-Stoy, a partner with the Munich-based IP firm of Bardehle Pagenberg.
In Germany, plaintiffs—including multinational ones—have wide forum-shopping latitude because a court has jurisdiction if a patented product is marketed over the Internet in its district. Litigators estimate that Düsseldorf attracts about half the 1,000 or so patent cases filed annually in Germany, Mannheim a quarter, and Munich one-fifth. Until a few years ago, Düsseldorf enjoyed a reputation as the swiftest in Germany, but its popularity resulted in a clogged court. The Mannheim court, which had revved up its speed by adding a second chamber in 2004, began to draw more cases as Düsseldorf’s court slowed.
One of the cases in Mannheim that pitted two high-tech giants against each other, Microsoft and Motorola, illustrates the speed with which the court can move. In a complaint filed in July 2011, Motorola complained that Microsoft’s Xbox game was infringing two of its H. 264 video-coding patents. The court granted an injunction in May 2012—less than nine months later.
Today, the courts in Düsseldorf, Munich, and Mannheim appear to be vying for the title of the fastest, and thus the most popular, court system in Germany. And there’s potentially a lot at stake for the winner. Patent litigators say that judges in the three cities are staking a claim to be the logical locations for Germany’s regional European patent courts, should a European Union proposal to establish a Unified Patent Court becomes a reality ["Courting Failure," Summer 2011].