18.104.22.168 Oral evidence and trial
The examination in chief (direct examination) of witnesses is compulsorily on affidavit.189 Cross-examination and reexamination (“redirect”) are taken orally live and transcribed. Often, to save the court’s time, the recording of the oral evidence is done either before the registrar of the court or before an LC. Unlike a court, LCs and registrars are not empowered to rule on objections raised during the evidence.190 However, the commissioner is entitled to enter notes they think material, about a witness’ demeanor so that the same is available to the court at the time of final hearing.191
Usually, trials take between three and five years from the date of filing to conclude, though there have been some patent cases where the trial concluded in six months to a year. Under the Commercial Courts Act, 2015, the court schedules the entire trial so that the recording of evidence is not drawn out. The trial could be day-to-day, and it is common for the courts to explicitly direct as such to reduce inconvenience to witnesses.192 Once the trial of a suit concludes, the matter proceeds to a final hearing.
It is usual for witnesses from foreign jurisdictions to record their statements through videoconferencing. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual courts and online platforms are usually used even for court hearings. Litigants can join proceedings physically, and, if the court has the facility, they can also join the hearing through a videoconferencing facility.
Witnesses are usually in-house representatives or attorneys from the respective parties who have themselves dealt with the litigation and the correspondence between the parties. A witness is not expected to have direct personal knowledge of every part of the deposition; it is enough if the witness can depose to company records and the record of the suit. In some areas, the testimony of people with personal knowledge is preferred – for example, for evidence about discussions in negotiations, the exchange of correspondence, some technical knowledge leading to the grant of the patent and so on.
Other witnesses are usually technical witnesses. In some cases, the inventor is also produced as a witness to strengthen the case of the plaintiff. Experts such as doctors, specialists, economists and accountants have also been produced in the court to establish other aspects of the litigation, such as the calculation of damages, distinguishing the prior art, mapping standards and so on. The inquiry into damages is crucial at the final stage, and, therefore, economists, financial experts or accountants who can analyze and depose to the computation of damages or royalties payable are vitally important in establishing the monetary aspect of the infringement case. Thus, the general practice is to have both in-house and expert witnesses.
22.214.171.124 Who leads evidence first? Can a defendant be directed to lead evidence first?
The Patents Act, 1970, does not specifically provide a procedure for evidence in cases of patent infringement. Instead, the procedure adopted for leading evidence in suits for infringement is in accordance with the Code of Civil Procedure193 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Under the latter, the onus of proof is on the person making a positive assertion. Thus, the patentee-plaintiff must lead evidence first to establish infringement. The defendant leads evidence thereafter to support its defenses or its counterclaim of invalidity. However, this is not a rigid rule. In a case where the defendant admits infringement, and the only question for decision is validity, the court may direct the defendant to lead evidence first. Thus, as provided under Order XVIII, the right to begin is generally granted to the plaintiff:
- 1. Right to begin. – The plaintiff has the right to begin unless the defendant admits the facts alleged by the plaintiff and contends that either in point of law or on some additional facts alleged by the defendant the plaintiff is not entitled to any part of the relief which he seeks, in which case the defendant has the right to begin.
2. Statement and production of evidence. –
- (1) On the day fixed for the hearing of the suit or on any other day to which the hearing is adjourned, the party having the right to begin shall state his case and produce his evidence in support of the issues which he is bound to prove.
- (2) The other party shall then state his case and produce his evidence (if any) and may then address the Court generally on the whole case.
- (3) The party beginning may then reply generally on the whole case.
Moreover, where a process claim is asserted, depending on the facts, the burden of proof may shift to the defendant to prove non-infringement. This exceptional situation is provided for under Section 104A of the Patents Act, 1970:
Burden of proof in case of suits concerning infringement.
(1) In any suit for infringement of a patent, where the subject matter of patent is a process for obtaining a product, the court may direct the defendant to prove that the process used by him to obtain the product, identical to the product of the patented process, is different from the patented process if, –
- (a) the subject matter of the patent is a process for obtaining a new product; or
(b) there is a substantial likelihood that the identical product is made by the process, and the patentee or a person deriving title or interest in the patent from him, has been unable through reasonable efforts to determine the process actually used:
Provided that the patentee or a person deriving title or interest in the patent from him first proves that the product is identical to the product directly obtained by the patented process.
- (2) In considering whether a party has discharged the burden imposed upon him by subsection (1), the court shall not require him to disclose any manufacturing or commercial secrets, if it appears to the court that it would be unreasonable to do so.
Subject to the fulfillment of the condition precedents noted in Section 104A, this is another circumstance in which the defendant may be asked to lead evidence first.194
In Bajaj Auto Ltd v. TVS Motor Co. Ltd,195 the Madras High Court was confronted with a unique situation – a suit against the groundless threat of infringement and non-infringement against the patentee, as well as a subsequent suit for infringement by the patentee. On the limited issue of who should lead evidence first, the court held that the plaintiff in the earlier suit must lead the evidence first since the subsequent suit was more in the nature of a counterclaim of infringement by the patentee. This is yet another unique situation wherein the alleged infringer led evidence first.
126.96.36.199 Filing of affidavits of witnesses in evidence: not treated as evidence till tendered
According to Order XVIII(4) of the Code of Civil Procedure:
Recording of evidence.
(1) In every case, the examination-in-chief of a witness shall be on affidavit and copies thereof shall be supplied to the opposite party by the party who calls him for evidence:
Provided that where documents are filed and the parties rely upon the documents, the proof and admissibility of such documents which are filed along with an affidavit shall be subject to the orders of the Court.
- (1A) The affidavits of evidence of all witnesses whose evidence is proposed to be led by a party shall be filed simultaneously by that party at the time directed in the first Case Management Hearing.
- (1B) A party shall not lead additional evidence by the affidavit of any witness (including of a witness who has already filed an affidavit) unless sufficient cause is made out in an application for that purpose and an order, giving reasons, permitting such additional affidavit is passed by the Court.
- (1C) A party shall however have the right to withdraw any of the affidavits so filed at any time prior to commencement of cross-examination of that witness, without any adverse inference being drawn based on such withdrawal: Provided that any other party shall be entitled to tender as evidence and rely upon any admission made in such withdrawn affidavit.
As per Section 1 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, affidavits are not included in the ambit of “evidence.” Thus, typically, the affidavit of the witness goes through the process of “tendering” – the witness is put on oath and affirms the contents of the affidavit, and, thus, the affidavit contents effectively become oral evidence. Such oral evidence is normally taken into consideration by the court when facts need to be proved.