2.6.1 Venue, jurisdiction and case assignment rules
The Federal Court of Australia and the state and territory supreme courts have jurisdiction to hear patent infringement matters. The Federal Court is granted jurisdiction directly from the Patents Act 1990 (Cth).53 In addition, state and territory supreme courts, as “prescribed courts,” are also granted jurisdiction directly from the Patents Act 1990 (Cth) in respect of a number of discrete matters (this relevantly includes infringement proceedings).54
Patent infringement proceedings are typically commenced in the Federal Court. This is a national jurisdiction with numerous judges who have extensive patent litigation expertise, often including practice at the bar prior to being appointed. First-instance proceedings in the Federal Court are heard and determined by a single judge. There are no jury trials for patent cases in Australia.
A party can commence patent proceedings before the Federal Court sitting in any Australian state or territory. The procedural rules and processes are standardized across Australia. Typically, a party will choose to commence a proceeding in the Federal Court registry that is in the state or territory in which they operate or where their legal representatives are located. Due to the standardized procedural rules and depth of experience of the Federal Court judiciary across the national Federal Court jurisdiction, there is no perceived benefit or disadvantage in commencing a proceeding in any particular venue.
Post-grant patent revocation proceedings can also be initiated in the federal (most commonly) or supreme courts. These can be commenced by a party seeking to “clear the path” ahead of the commercialization of a technology. However, in most instances, post-grant revocation is brought as a cross-claim to an infringement proceeding.
In the Federal Court, there are a number of NPAs, one of which is Intellectual Property, which includes the subarea of Patents and Associated Statutes.55 This subarea includes:
- patent disputes – essentially infringement and validity disputes; and
- appeals from the Commissioner of Patents – for example, refusal by the Commissioner to grant a patent application.
There are approximately 54 Federal Court judges across the Federal Court. All Federal Court judges sit in multiple national practice areas although only 15 sit in the Patents and Associated Statutes subarea, as noted on the Federal Court portal.56
The Federal Court operates an individual docket system, under which a case is allocated to a judge from filing to final hearing. Proceedings relating to patents are subject to the Intellectual Property Practice Note (IP-1).57 This practice note provides guidelines for how patent proceedings – both validity and infringement – must be case-managed, including the use of agreed primers and position statements on infringement.
Federal Court judges actively manage cases in their docket, and parties are required by Federal Court legislation to conduct proceedings as quickly, inexpensively and efficiently as possible.58 Consistent with its drive for efficiency, the Federal Court is increasingly limiting the scope of pre-trial processes, in particular discovery. The docket judge sets a timetable for steps such as discovery, evidence and pre-trial steps and will seek to minimize the extent of interlocutory disputes about these procedural steps. Although it varies depending on the nature of the case, the docket judge will often, at an early stage, set the matter down for a final hearing, which then provides a practical end point to the timetable for the steps of discovery, evidence and pre-trial matters.
Parties may be represented by lawyers, being either barristers, solicitors or, as is often the case, a combination of both. If a party is a natural person, they may also choose to represent themselves. Corporate parties must be represented by lawyers; however, with the leave of the court, they may be represented by a nonlawyer.