2.6.3 Early case management
Specific rules of the Federal Court of Australia govern the conduct of intellectual property cases. Those rules are supplemented by the Intellectual Property Practice Note (IP-1), which, when read with the Central Practice Note: National Court Framework and Case Management (CPN-1), sets out the key principles of case management procedure applied by the court.
The rules concerning the management of patent cases are structured to have a strong emphasis on the quick, efficient and as-inexpensive-as-practicable disposition of each matter. The key objective of case management is to reduce costs and delay so that there are fewer issues in contest, promote the effective use of expert evidence and ensure both that there is no greater factual investigation than justice requires and that there are as few interlocutory applications as necessary for the just and efficient disposition of cases.
The court recognizes that proceedings in the Patents and Associated Statutes subarea of the Intellectual Property NPA will vary in complexity, and so a flexible approach is taken to the conduct of proceedings, which enables practitioners to tailor the conduct of the case according to need. Case management hearings are integral to case management; they are conducted by the docket judge, and one of their aims is to identify the genuine issues in dispute between the parties at the earliest stage. At the first case management hearing, the parties’ legal representatives are expected to have an understanding of the case such that they can assist in developing directions for the conduct of the matter to ensure that it is swiftly and economically brought to trial.
The following matters routinely arise in discussion during the course of the initial and any subsequent case management hearings:
- the size and scope of the claim and any cross-claim, including the likely areas of dispute in relation to infringement and the likely grounds of any cross-claim seeking revocation of the patent;
- whether the patentee intends to seek leave to amend the patent claims;
- how the patentee intends to prove infringement (if in dispute) and how to limit the disputes to those central to the determination of the issues, such as by requiring the accused infringer to provide a product, method or process description;
- where it is alleged that there are multiple types of allegedly infringing activity, how the infringement case can be organized by reference to agreed representative examples of infringing conduct;
- whether it is expected that either party will seek leave to adduce evidence of experiments conducted for the purpose of the proceedings;
- the expertise of any expert witnesses, including whether it is proposed that more than one expert witness will be called by each party and, if so, why;
- pre-trial discovery of documents. The court does not permit discovery as of right, and it is incumbent on parties to establish the appropriateness of discovery;
- the early preparation of an agreed primer that sets out undisputed matters going to the CGK, including aspects of the technology relevant for the court to understand the patent, the case advanced in relation to the allegations of infringement and any cross-claim seeking revocation of the patent;
- the timetable for the preparation of lay and expert evidence;
- typically, it will be agreed between the parties that it is efficient for questions of liability to be considered separately and before questions of quantum of any damages or account of profits. Orders are made early for the separation of these issues in the appropriate case; and
- whether and when it is appropriate for the proceedings to be referred to mediation. Frequently, the parties agree – or the court orders – that, after the pleadings are closed, the parties should attend a mediation conducted either by a registrar of the court or an external mediator, who will facilitate settlement negotiations.
The court will seek to set down the proceedings for a final hearing as soon as it becomes apparent when the parties will be in a position to complete the necessary pre-trial steps.
Practitioners are encouraged to discuss the proceedings from an early stage to determine whether alternative procedures that will facilitate the efficient disposition of proceedings can be adopted by the court. The court has the power to appoint:
- a court expert to inquire into and report on any question or facts relevant to the proceedings;
- a referee to consider and determine specific matters before the final hearing; or
- an assessor to assist in the hearing and trial or in the determination of the proceedings.
As a matter of practice, these steps are rarely taken in patent cases during the liability phase of the proceedings.
A regular topic for discussion at case management hearings is whether, having regard to the manner in which the dispute between the parties has developed, the proceedings can be more efficiently conducted by either or both:
- the patentee reducing the number of claims that it sues on or the number of patents upon which the proceedings are advanced; or
- the party seeking revocation limiting the number of prior art documents relied upon in its case based on lack of inventive step or lack of novelty.
After any expert evidence in chief has been filed and answered, the court will frequently direct that the experts meet and prepare a joint expert report. This process facilitates the commencement of a direct dialogue between the experts that is intended to ensure that the subject matter of their oral evidence is confined to relevant matters that are genuinely in dispute. Experience has demonstrated that the process of preparing the joint expert report frequently eliminates semantic or peripheral disputes that otherwise appear significant in written reports.
After most of the preparatory steps have been taken, the docket judge will conduct a more detailed pre-trial case management hearing, wherein the conduct of the hearing will be considered. During this hearing, the parties discuss the timetable for the hearing, whether witnesses can appear by video link or in person, the conduct of the joint expert evidence by the giving of concurrent evidence (as to which, see Section 184.108.40.206), the order of submissions and other practical matters.
When a proceeding for patent infringement or revocation is filed in the Federal Court of Australia, it will typically be allocated by the court to a docket judge, who will conduct all case management hearings of the proceedings and will also conduct the final hearing. There are a number of advantages of this docket system, including that the trial judge is familiar with the matter by the time of the final hearing. It is also a useful discipline for the parties that the judge hearing their procedural applications throughout the proceedings is the same judge who will be conducting the final hearing.
Generally, a judge from the Patents and Associated Statutes subarea (that is, a judge with experience in patent cases) will be allocated to the patent infringement or revocation proceeding as the docket judge.
The docket judge will determine when to set the hearing date for the final trial in the proceedings. In some cases, this may be done at an early stage of the proceeding. However, it is not uncommon for a hearing date to be set later in the proceedings, such as after the pleadings or after evidence has been filed.