5.4.3 Appeal proceedings
An appeal against a judgment in revocation proceedings is to be filed with the FCJ. Since the FCJ is also the final instance in the infringement proceedings, it can assure that the patent is interpreted in the same way in infringement and revocation proceedings.55
Within the FCJ, the Xth civil senate is responsible for appeals in revocation proceedings. The Xth civil senate currently has eight members, all of whom are fully qualified lawyers. Before being promoted to the FCJ, the members of the Xth civil senate were (presiding) judges either at district courts, courts of appeals or the FPC. Not all members of the Xth civil senate are involved in every case. Cases are handled by a panel of five judges: the presiding judge or their deputy, and four associate judges one of whom is the reporting judge (the judge who is mainly responsible for handling the case prior to the oral hearing).
18.104.22.168 Limited de novo appeal
The purpose of appeal proceedings is not to reevaluate all facts and legal arguments brought forward in the course of the first instance. Therefore, experts or witnesses are rarely heard by the FCJ. The appeal proceedings are instead directed at evaluating whether the judgment of the FPC was based on a violation of federal law or if facts that are to be considered by the FCJ justify a different decision (cf. Section 111(1)). The latter aspect is the limiting factor: the basis of the FCJ’s decision is, first and foremost, the facts determined in the judgment of the FPC, whereas new facts and new means for challenge and defense (e.g., new evidence, new objections, new interpretations of or new arguments based on prior art documents that are already part of the proceedings) can only be considered to a very limited extent (cf. Section 117).
According to Section 117, which refers to certain provisions of the German Code of Civil Procedure, new means for challenge and defense are only admitted for consideration (1) if they concern an aspect that the FPC had recognizably failed to see or had held to be insignificant, (2) if they were not asserted in the first instance due to a defect in the proceedings, or (3) if their nonassertion in the first instance was not due to the party’s negligence. In practice, the last aspect is the most relevant. The standards for showing that the nonassertion of a means for challenge and defense was not due to the party’s negligence are rather high. For example, a party that wants to introduce a newly found prior art document in the appeal proceedings must reason why this piece of prior art was not found during the prior art search conducted in (the preparation of) the first-instance proceedings. This reasoning must include a detailed explanation as to the scope and content of said search and as to why the search profile that led to the prior art document had not been chosen back then. Parties are thus forced to carefully consider their position and bring all relevant arguments, as well as their means for challenge and defense already in the proceedings before the FPC, because an argument that has been held back in the first instance may not be considered in the appeal proceedings.
Moreover, Section 117 of the Patent Act and the applicable provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure state the means for challenge and defense that have been correctly rejected by the FPC must also not be considered by the FCJ, and that delayed means for challenge and defense may only be considered if their consideration does not defer the appeal proceedings (e.g., require a postponement of the oral hearing).
Whether or not an amendment of the action or a limited defense of the patent-in-suit with new claims is admissible follows the provisions set forth in Section 116. Admission requires the consent of the opposing party or that the FCJ deems the amendment to be expedient and that the amendment can be based on facts that are to be considered by the FCJ anyway. The threshold for expediency of a limited defense of the patent-in-suit is lower than that of an amendment of the action because the patent proprietor has no second chance to defend the patent-in-suit if it is revoked by the FCJ, whereas the plaintiff may file a new revocation action if the amendment is inadmissible.
In appeal proceedings before the FCJ, the parties need to be represented by an attorney-at-law or a patent attorney, either of whom may be accompanied by a technical adviser. Unlike in most other proceedings before the FCJ, the parties in patent revocation proceedings on appeal do not need to be represented by an attorney who is admitted to the bar at the FCJ but can choose any attorney-at-law or patent attorney who is admitted to practice in Germany.
22.214.171.124 Course of proceedings
126.96.36.199.1 Notice of appeal and statement of grounds for appeal
The deadline for filing a notice of appeal with the FCJ is one month from the service of the judgment in complete form (and five months following delivery at the latest if the judgment has not been seviced). The notice of appeal is a short brief whose mandatory content is a declaration that an appeal is being filed and an indication of the judgment against which the appeal is being filed. The mandatory statement of grounds for appeal does not need to be part of the notice of appeal but can be filed in a separate brief within three months from service of the judgment in complete form (and five months following delivery at the latest). Contrary to the deadline for filing the notice of appeal, the deadline for filing the detailed statement of grounds may be extended upon request by one month or, but only with the counterpart’s consent, longer.
The statement of grounds must contain a specific motion that sets out to what extent the judgment of the FPC is being contested and the extent to which its setting aside is requested. Moreover, the appellant must specifically deal with the reasoning of the FPC’s judgment and set out for which legal or factual grounds the judgment is considered to be incorrect. This requires pointing out that the FPC’s judgment violates the law and showing that the judgment was based on this violation of law – that is, that the decision would have been different without the alleged violation of law. Against this background, Section 112(3) states that the statement of grounds must contain the following:
- If a violation of law is alleged, the circumstances from which said violation of the law resulted need to be specified in the statement of grounds. The main scenario for this provision is that the appellant assesses the patent’s patentability in the light of the prior art differently than the FPC does. Thus, the appellant must explain why the assessment of the FPC is incorrect and why a correct assessment would result in a more favorable decision. The extent to which the grounds for revocation needs to be discussed depends on the person of the appellant: if this is the plaintiff, they must deal not only with the grounds for revocation discussed in the judgment but also with all other grounds for revocation that have been discussed in the course of the first-instance proceedings and that they want to pursue in the appeal proceedings. If this is the defendant (i.e., the patent proprietor is the appellant), they need deal only with all those grounds for revocation that led to the FPC (partially) revoking the patent.
- If a violation of procedural law is alleged, the circumstances that resulted in said deficiency need to be indicated. For example, if a violation of the right to be heard is alleged because the FPC did not inform the parties that it would no longer follow the assessment set out in the preliminary opinion, the appellant must set out in their statement of grounds for appeal which submission would have been made had they been informed of the change in the FPC’s opinion and why due consideration of this submission would have resulted in a more favorable decision.
- Finally, if the appellant wishes to introduce new means of challenge or defense (e.g., new prior art documents), these new means need to be mentioned in the statement of grounds for appeal, and the appellant also must set out why these new means are to be admitted in accordance with Section 111 (cf. Section 188.8.131.52).
184.108.40.206.2 Examination of admissibility and preparation of oral hearing
If the appeal is an available remedy, the FCJ checks whether the notice of appeal and the statement of grounds for appeal have been filed in due form and within the legal deadlines. If one of these requirements is not met, the appeal is dismissed as inadmissible; otherwise, an oral hearing is scheduled, which is further prepared by written statements from the parties. Following the appellant’s statement of grounds for appeal, the appellee can submit a written statement in defense of the FPC’s judgment setting out why the appeal should not be successful. Subsequently, further briefs may be exchanged in preparation for the oral hearing.
If the judgment of the FPC aggrieves both parties, but, at first, only one party appealed the judgment, the other party may file a cross-appeal. The deadline for filing the notice of cross-appeal is either two months from service of the statement of grounds for appeal or within the deadline set for responding to the statement of grounds for appeal. Unlike the notice of appeal, the notice of cross-appeal must include the statement of grounds. The cross-appeal is not an independent remedy and ceases to be effective if the appeal is withdrawn or dismissed.
220.127.116.11.4 Oral hearing and judgment
If the appeal is not dismissed as inadmissible, an oral hearing will be scheduled, and the parties will be informed of the oral hearing. The law requires that the parties be informed of the date of the oral hearing at least two weeks in advance, but, in practice, the oral hearing is generally scheduled roughly one year in advance. While the parties to infringement proceedings may request that the oral hearing be rescheduled if it is scheduled for July or August, such a possibility is not open to the parties of revocation proceedings, for whom oral hearings may also take place during the summer months.
The law provides for the possibility of dispensing the oral hearing if the parties consent, but this rarely happens. At the beginning of an oral hearing, the presiding judge will summarize the facts of the case and give a preliminary assessment of the case based on the deliberations of the senate that usually take place the day before the oral hearing. This assessment may include open questions on which the panel could not even form a preliminary view. The parties’ representatives will then plead their cases, and, depending on the case, there may also be a discussion between the judges and the party representatives about specific technical or legal questions.
In patent revocation appeal proceedings, the oral hearing may also be conducted and a judgment rendered if one party does not appear at the oral hearing. Even if both parties do not appear at the oral hearing, the court may render a judgment.
The FCJ gives its judgment on the basis of the oral hearing, but only after having been extensively briefed by the parties in the written proceedings. Thus, careful preparation of the court by the parties is essential. While the judgment is normally given directly after the oral hearing and deliberations, the court may also set a date a few weeks after the oral hearing for giving the judgment.
The appeal is dismissed if the judgment of the FPC is found to be correct or if its reasoning contains a violation of law but is correct for other reasons. If the appeal is deemed to be well founded, the judgment of the FPC is set aside or amended. The FCJ may remit the case to the FPC for new proceedings and a new decision, in which the FPC is bound to the legal assessment that led to the judgment being set aside. However, the FCJ may decide itself, if this is expedient,56 and it must decide if the case is ready for a final decision. In practice, the FCJ almost always decides the case finally and does not remit it to the FPC.
The judgment of the FCJ needs to be reasoned. Only to the extent that the FCJ considers alleged violations of procedural law not effective, a reasoning is not necessary.
The judgment also contains a decision on the costs of the proceedings. Moreover, the FCJ must set a value in dispute. With regard to the setting of the value in dispute and the costs, the considerations set out above in the context of the first-instance proceedings apply accordingly (cf. Section 18.104.22.168.3 with regard to the determination of the value in dispute). In appeal proceedings before the FCJ, the court fees and the attorneys’ fees, which both are calculated according to a statutory schedule of fees, are significantly higher than those for the first-instance proceedings.