5.6.3 Venue, jurisdiction and case assignment rules
126.96.36.199 Venue and jurisdictions
The German system conceptually distinguishes “venue” (“örtliche Zuständigkeit”) and “international jurisdiction” (“internationale Zuständigkeit”). The rules on venue, as provided for in the Code of Civil Procedure (Section 12 et seq.), are considered to also implicitly establish international jurisdiction for the German courts unless an international agreement takes priority. These rules distinguish between courts of “general jurisdiction” (“allgemeiner Gerichtsstand”)99 and courts of “specific jurisdiction” (“besonderer Gerichtsstand”).
A court that has general jurisdiction over a person is competent for any and all claims against that person unless there is a specific “exclusive jurisdiction” pertaining to certain claims. Generally, the courts at the individual’s residence (Section 13) and the courts at a company’s principal place of business (Section 17) are courts of general jurisdiction. The most important “exclusive jurisdiction” is that of the German FPC, which has exclusive jurisdiction over all nullity actions (Section 81). The most relevant rule on specific jurisdiction is that of Section 32, providing that tort-law-based actions can be filed in the court where the tortious action was committed (forum loci delicti commissi). This provision is the typical basis for venue and international jurisdiction in patent infringement actions. As most of the infringing activities are practiced nationwide (e.g., sales), the plaintiff can pick the venue based on criteria like quality and speed of adjudication – or any other criteria for that matter – instead of being bound to sue at the court of general jurisdiction. This “forum shopping” has been subject to controversy, yet the provision has not been applied restrictively by German courts. It has, for example, been considered sufficient for nationwide jurisdiction if the defendant supplies a product to one customer and that customer distributes the product nationwide (like in the automotive industry).100
Infringement of a German patent (or the German part of a European patent) automatically implies international jurisdiction of the German courts (“double-relevant facts”). If the facts presented by the plaintiff do not support the infringement of a German patent, then there is no international jurisdiction as well. Based on general doctrines of tort law (Section 823 et seq. of the Civil Code),101 the case law of the FCJ has been relatively far reaching in terms of infringement of a German patent by way of acts committed abroad. Thus, seen as infringer is not only the entity who carries out the act of use themselves, but also the person who objectively enables or promotes the realization of the act of use by another person, even though they were able to obtain knowledge with reasonable effort that the act supported by him infringes the patent.102 Hence, even if the defendant’s activities are exclusively conducted abroad (e.g., supplying certain parts to a customer who imports the products as part of a bigger and complex product) those actions can result in infringement of a German patent and thereby jurisdiction of German courts, if an examination of the property rights was indicated.103
If one of the parties has its residence or principal place of business in another member state of the EU, the Brussels Ia Regulation104 applies. This regulation generally follows the same concept of general jurisdiction for the courts of the member state in which the defendant resides (Article 4(1) of the Brussels Ia Regulation) and of specific jurisdiction for the courts of the member state wherein the infringing activity occurs (Article 7(2) of the Brussels Ia Regulation). If a non-EU country in Europe is involved (particularly Switzerland), the Lugano Convention105 must be considered. Its structure is similar to the Brussels Ia Regulation. Based on the general jurisdictional rule – according to which a party can be sued with regard to any claims in the courts of the country in which the party has its residence or principal place of business – it is generally possible to also assert patents other than the national patents of the forum. This would also apply to other national (non-German) parts of a European patent if the defendant resides in Germany. Under Article 8(1) of the Brussels Ia Regulation, jurisdiction could also be established for non-German resident defendants.
These vehicles enabling “cross border” patent litigation have not yet played a significant role, since the European Court of Justice, in Gesellschaft für Antriebstechnik v. Lamellen und Kupplungsbau Beteiligungs,106 held that exclusive jurisdiction is automatically established as soon as the defendant requests the nullification of the patent-in-suit by way of a counterclaim or even only requests the dismissal of the infringement action based on the invalidity of the patent-in-suit. The sole exception to this rule has been cases for preliminary relief, but, so far, no German court has entertained any genuine cross border actions in the form of an interim relief.
188.8.131.52 Case assignment
Patent infringement matters are regular civil law matters assigned to the civil court system, which includes state and federal courts. The entry level is at the regional courts (“Landgerichte”; Section 143(1)), 12 of which have jurisdiction over patent disputes.107 Typically, there is one regional court with jurisdiction for all the appellate circuits of one state or even multiple states.108 The Regional Court of Düsseldorf (“Landgericht Düsseldorf”) has exclusive jurisdiction for all patent infringement matters in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (about 18 million inhabitants), and the Regional Court of Mannheim (“Landgericht Mannheim”) has exclusive jurisdiction for all patent infringement matters in the state of Baden-Württemberg (about 11 million inhabitants). While generally, according to Section 32, all 12 regional courts have nationwide jurisdiction, the regional courts of Düsseldorf, Mannheim and Munich (“Landgericht München I”) are the busiest.
These courts each have two or three panels. Each panel (“Kammer”; more literally translated as “chamber”) has three members on the bench for each case, while, in most cases, more than three judges are permanent members of the bench. Individual cases are assigned to the competent chambers on an abstract case allocation scheme, which is set up for each calendar year in advance by the presidium of the respective court.
The German judiciary is based on a judicial career system, so judges embark on a judicial career early on – in most cases after having graduated from university (legal studies) and upon completion of a two-year judicial trainee program, finishing with the second state examination, which is the entry requirement for both bar admission and for a judicial career.109 Traditionally, the judiciary aims to recruit graduates in the top 10 to 20 percent of their class years. In many cases, the judges assigned to the patent panels hold even better credentials than the average judge. The presiding judge of a panel typically has more than 10 years of experience and will have served some time at an appellate court or as a clerk at the FCJ.
Any civil patent action is filed by one or several plaintiffs. It can be a regular infringement action in which the plaintiff claims to be entitled to claims for relief against the defendant’s allegedly infringing activities, or it can be a declaratory action in which the alleged infringer acts as plaintiff seeking declaratory relief denying any liability. The plaintiff in a regular infringement action requires standing to sue (“Aktivlegitimation”). The patent proprietor has standing to sue for injunctive relief and any further reliefs, in particular claims for damages. The exclusive licensee also has standing for those types of relief.110 Indeed, the patent owner and the exclusive licensee can generally both sue for the same relief, but, of course, that does not lead to a duplication of claims for damages.111 However, the requirements for an exclusive licensee to establish such a standing are strict.
Agreements governed by foreign law are generally possible, but they must be checked carefully as to whether they meet the thresholds for a genuine exclusive license for the purposes of standing to sue. Any party other than the patent owner or the exclusive licensee must establish standing to sue based on a transfer, either from the proprietor or the exclusive licensee. Such “title holders” can, without any limitation, assign claims for past damages to any third party, who can then assert those in a patent infringement action. Claims for injunction relief, however, cannot be assigned without transferring the property title to the patent.112 If there are specific legal interests present (e.g., if a nonexclusive licensee wants to assert claims), the proprietor can “authorize” the plaintiff (nonexclusive licensee) to also assert claims for injunctive relief.113 Again, neither the proprietor nor the exclusive licensee would need to be party to such litigation. In this regard, there are no “necessary parties” that need to be included as “coplaintiffs.”
An action for declaratory relief requires a specific “interest,” which is similar to what is known as the “case-or-controversy” requirement in the U.S. federal system (Section 256 of the Code of Civil Procedure).
For the plaintiff to prevail on claims for infringement, the defendant must be liable. Liability is generally established by any of the activities specifically set forth in the statute (Section 9) pertaining to devices or methods protected by the patent-in-suit – that is, falling within the scope of protection of the patent-in-suit as defined by its claims (Article 69 of the EPC; Section 14 of the Patent Act). Such activities can be summarized as manufacturing and distributing the accused device or performing the protected process (i.e., method). However, it is not necessary that any of these activities are performed by the defendant in person. Rather, there is a well-settled, highly sophisticated jurisprudence based on general tort law also establishing liability in scenarios in which the defendant only causes those subsequent activities by third parties to occur.
One practically and highly relevant example is the supply of accused devices abroad. The defendant might ship chips abroad to a separate party, who uses the chip to assemble an electronic device. Yet, another, commercially separate entity might import the device into Germany to distribute it. Even though only the last entity in the chain performs any of the statutorily specified activities (importing), the first entity in the chain can also be separately liable for infringement, even in the absence of any concerned activities. Rather, it suffices that the source knew that the products were, in part, also ultimately destined for the German market.114 Any of the parties in the chain can be separately sued for patent infringement in Germany. Thus, suing the entity that is the source of the chip does not implicate or necessitate also suing the importing entity (importer of the assembled electronic device). In German procedure, there is no teaching similar to the “party of interest” doctrine in U.S. federal practice.
184.108.40.206 Party representation
Parties need to be represented by an attorney-at-law admitted to practice in Germany (Section 78(1) of the Code of Civil Procedure). Patent attorneys who are not members of the general attorneys’ bar, but only of the patent bar, can only act to support the attorneys-at-law but cannot represent a party independently. This is different for nullity actions, both before the FPC and on appeal before the FCJ, in which both (independent) representation by a patent attorney or an attorney-at-law are permitted (Sections 97(2) and 113).