Assignment action of GSK ./. Novartis

Case No. O2013_004 ¦ Order of 28 October 2013 ¦ “Streitwert für Gerichtsgebühren bzw. Parteientschädigung”

This assignment action was filed already back in March 2010. In December 2011, the matter had been transferred from the Civil Court Basel to the FPC, on request of the plaintiff. In reconsideration of its decision to transfer the case, the Civil Court Basel (tried to) set aside its decision, but later on held that it was no longer competent to do so. The defendant appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court did not consider the appeal since the Civil Court Basel is no higher cantonal court (Art. 75(2) FCA). Instead, the Supreme Court referred the case to Basel’s Court of Appeals for further consideration. Finally, the Court of Appeals Basel transferred the case to the FPC — again. The FPC dismissed the proceedings initially received from the Civil Court (O2012_009) and opened the present proceedings that had been transferred from the Court of Appeals. Here we are, finally.

In parallel, there were arbitration proceedings between the plaintiff and a connected undertaking of the defendant, pertaining to contractual issues.

1.  Background of the case

SyringeThe decision is published in anonymised form, on request of the defendant (cf. r. 5). However, the case made me nosy for at least two reasons. First, the annual turnover generated with the vaccine sold by the plaintiff and manufactured in accordance with the patent is noteworthy. It generated an annual turnover of GBP 192M in 2011, and sales increased by 25% to GBP 238M in 2012. Thus, it must be one of the top selling vaccines. Moreover, the plaintiff and a connected undertaking of the defendant are tied in a supply agreement (cf. r. 5).

Scrabbling this out, it becomes evident that the sales figures perfectly match with Boostrix® and, thus, the plaintiff is GlaxoSmithKline (cf. pages 8 and 58 of the GSK Annual Report 2012).

Boostrix

The patent family concerned is based on WO 2008/020328 A2. From the EPO file wrapper of EP 2 073 841 (a national phase application of WO 2008/020328 A2), even the writ of 29 March 2010 can be derived: Prosecution is currently stayed on request of the plaintiff, and the writ had been filed in support of the request to stay the EPO proceedings. From the writ, it becomes clear that the connected undertaking of the defendant involved in the production of Boostrix® is Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics GmbH (Marburg, Germany). Evidently, Novartis came into play when it had taken over the former Chiron Behring GmbH & Co. in 2005 (now: Novartis Deutschland).

From the writ, it can be concluded that the competing product Td-Pur® of the defendant does not make use of the manufacturing method according to the patent family in suit.

Td-pur

2.  It’s all about money

Initially, both parties had agreed “preliminarily” on a value in dispute of CHF 1M (cf. e.g. #5 of the writ). However, the FPC fixed the value in dispute to CHF 4M with order of 07 March 2013 in accordance with Art. 91(2) CPC since the information the parties provided in this respect were manifestly incorrect. An advance payment of court fees in the amount of CHF 100’000.– was imposed on the plaintiff accordingly; Art. 1 CostR-PatC. Thereafter, proceedings were stayed on request of both parties until 30 June 2013.

Next, the defendant accepted the plaintiff’s claim on 26 June 2013 (apparently in view of an unfavourable ruling in parallel arbitration proceedings pertaining to the supply contract); see the earlier post in this matter. However, the defendant requested that the court fees and the compensation of the plaintiff be fixed in accordance with a value in dispute of only CHF 1M.

In reply, the plaintiff requested that the value in dispute be fixed to “exceeding” CHF 5M. Moreover, costs for legal representation of CHF 315’781.50 and an additional CHF 79’391.– for costs incurred by the assisting patent attorney were requested to be awarded in full.

The parties were summoned to a hearing scheduled 26 September 2013 in order to provide their final statements in this respect.

The FPC held that it is only possible to bring an action for an unquantified debt when it is impossible or unreasonable to quantify the amount of the debt at the start of the proceedings; Art. 85(1) CPC. That was not the case here. Instead, the plaintiff had apparently estimated the value in dispute at the lower end only in view of the unforeseeable peculiarities of the formerly applicable civil procedure code of Basel. The plaintiff presented arguments in favour of a much higher value in dispute, based on the sales figures given hereinbefore. Additionally, it was referred to the parallel arbitration proceedings where the plaintiff had estimated the value in dispute to at least USD 5M. This was not appreciated by the FPC. The FPC rather held that the plaintif had the underlying facts at hand already at the very beginning of the proceedings. It cannot be tolerated in view of the good faith principle that a party aims to increase the value in dispute when success on the merits of the case is within reach:

Die Argumente und Überlegungen, welche die Klägerin im Nachhinein anführt, […] hätte sie bereits bei Klageeinleitung vorbringen können. […] Aufgrund ihrer heutigen Vorbringen erstaunt es geradezu, wie die Klägerin überhaupt auf einen Streitwert von lediglich CHF 1 Mio. gekommen ist, […]. Es ist somit vielmehr davon auszugehen, dass die Klägerin den Streitwert aus prozesstaktischen Gründen bewusst tief ansetzte, weil — wie sie selber vorbringt — sie ein Unterliegen aus rein prozessualen Gründen aufgrund der alten Basler Zivilprozessordnung nicht habe ausschliessen können. Damit wollte die Klägerin das Risiko allfälliger sie treffender Kosten mindern. Es kann nicht angehen, dass die Klägerin nun im Wissen um den für sie positiven Prozessausgang für die Bemessung der Parteientschädigung den Streitwert auf CHF 5 Mio. übersteigend beziffert mit einer Begründung, deren ihr zugrunde liegende Tatsachen bereits vor Prozessbeginn bekannt waren. Ein solches Verhalten ist aufgrund der Pflicht der Parteien, im Verfahren nach Treu und Glauben zu handeln (Art. 52 CPC), nicht zu schützen.

Thus, the FPC fixed the compensation for legal representation of the plaintiff on the basis of only CHF 1M as a value in dispute. Since neither a main hearing had been scheduled nor a procedure of taking evidence had been necessary, the FPC did only award CHF 50’000,– (N.B. instead of CHF 315’781.50 as requested); Art. 32 and 33 PatCA, Art. 4 and 5 CostR-PatC. Some deductions were made to the requested compensation for the assisting patent attorney in view of costs incurred in the parallel arbitration proceedings; CHF 60’556.50 were awarded instead of the requested CHF 79’391.–.

Despite the elevated value in dispute, actual court fees at the FPC were fixed to only CHF 30’000,– since proceedings at the FPC did not get under steam on the merits at all. The remainder of the advance payment was refunded to the plaintiff.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. O2013_004 ¦ Order of 28 October 2013 ¦ “Streitwert für Gerichtsgebühren bzw. Parteientschädigung”

GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals SA ./. Novartis AG

Subject(s):

  • Value in dispute
  • Ownership

Composition of the Board of the FPC:

  • Dr. iur. Dieter BRÄNDLE (President, Single Judge)
  • Lic. iur. Susanne ANDERHALDEN (Court Secretary)

Representative(s) of Plaintiff:

Representative(s) of Defendant:

Full text of the decision right here:

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