O2012_021: Federal Supreme Court partly overruled decision of the FPC

Case No. 4A_443/2012 ¦ Decision of 05 February 2013 ¦ “Appeal against the decision of the Federal Patent Court of 07 June 2012

For the background of the case and the underlying decision of the FPC in detail, please see this blog here. In brief, the FPC had ruled that it is competent to decide on claims for injunctive relief and damages, pertaining to infrastructure for collecting the performance-related heavy vehicle fee (HVF) levied in Switzerland.

The Swiss Confederation lodged an appeal against the decision of the FPC. For now, only the issues of competency of the FPC are at stake.

The Supreme Court ruled as follows:

1.  Competency of the FPC with respect to injunctive relief

The Supreme Court stressed that a patentee’s rights are emanating from the Federal Act on Invention Patents which is part of the civil law. A patent is a property in the sense of Art. 26(1) of the Federal Constitution and as such is protected by the constitutional principle of guarantee of ownership (BGE 126 III 129, reasons 8a). The Confederation can be patentee, and on the other hand it has to respect patent rights. Consequently, the Confederation is not entitled to infringe a patent, even if it acts in public interest (reasons 2.3.1).

Das Gemeinwesen wird somit auch im Rahmen der Erfüllung öffentlicher Aufgaben vom Ausschliesslichkeitsrecht nach Art. 8 PatG erfasst und ist insoweit grundsätzlich dem patentrechtlichen Unterlassungsanspruch (Art. 72 i.V.m. Art. 66 PatG) ausgesetzt.

Thus, the Supreme Court confirmed: The Confederation has to face requests for injunctive relief under Art. 72 PatG, and the FPC has exclusive jurisdiction in this respect (Art. 26(1) lit. a PatCA).

In a detailed obiter dictum (reasons 2.3.2 ff), the Supreme Court also expanded on the competency of the FPC to decide on a claim of the Confederation for a compulsory license in the interest of the public. In case of public, non-commercial use it is not mandatory that the Confederation tries to obtain a license under market-reasonable conditions prior to filing a suit to be granted a compulsory license (Art. 40(1) and Art. 40e of the Federal Act on Invention Patents; similar to Art. 31 lit. b TRIPS). The FPC has exclusive jurisdiction in such cases (Art. 26(1) lit a PatCA). Further, the Supreme Court briefly touched on the topic whether the injunctive relief (as a right conferred by a patent) could be subject to expropriation under Art. 32(1) Federal Act on Invention Patents, but did not provide further guidance in this respect.

2.  Competency of the FPC with respect to damages

The plaintiff / respondent requested damages of CHF 62’466’022,85 based on civil law (Art. 73(1) Federal Act on Invention Patents; Art. 41 ff, Art. 62 ff and Art. 423 Code of Obligations). However, the Confederation is only liable under civil law in case of commercial activities, not in case of activities that concern a public function. The Supreme Court held that the use of the infrastructure and the collection of the HVF is undoubtedly carried out by the Confederation in a public function (see also BGE 128 III 76, reasons 1a in this respect).

Die strittige Verwendung der technischen Infrastruktur […] erfolgt unbestreitbar im Rahmen der Wahrnehmung einer öffentlichen Aufgabe. Eine gewerbliche Tätigkeit, die grundsätzlich Privaten wie Nichtprivaten offensteht und bei welcher die Erzielung von Gewinn eine Rolle spielt, liegt beim fraglichen Betrieb der technischen Infrastruktur nicht vor […].

Consequently, the Supreme Court overruled the decision of the FPC with respect to the competency to decide on damages: Liability of the Confederation in this case is to be assessed under the Government Liability Act. The FPC has no jurisdiction in this respect; cf. Art. 10 of the Government Liability Act.

Reported by Martin WILMING

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Case No. 4A_443/2012 ¦ Decision of 05 February 2013 ¦ “Appeal against the decision of the Federal Patent Court of 07 June 2012

Swiss Confederation (represented by the Federal Department of Finance) ./. Robert Bosch GmbH

Subject(s):

  • Patent infringement
  • Competency

Composition of the Board of the Supreme Court:

  • Dr. iur. Kathrin KLETT (President)
  • Bernard CORBOZ
  • Dr. iur. Gilbert KOLLY
  • Christina KISS
  • Dr. iur. Martha NIQUILLE
  • Dr. iur. Matthias LEEMANN (Court Secretary)

Representative(s) of Appellant:

Representative(s) of Defendant:

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