For the first time Mannheim Regional Court has created a special chamber for antitrust. Patrizia Rombach took over the Chair of the 14th Civil Chamber in September. The 46 year old was formerly Chair of the 7th Civil Chamber, one of the two renowned patent chambers in Mannheim. Rombach’s successor is Peter Tochtermann (43), who is also highly experienced in the patent field.
According to insiders, there have long been plans for a separate antitrust chamber in the state of Baden-Württemberg (where Mannheim is situated) because the patent chambers were having to deal with an increasing number of antitrust damages claims. The Regional Court will now concentrate all cartel cases in the new chamber. It seems that Rombach was a shoo-in to chair the new chamber at an early stage, but had to stay longer in the 7th chamber after the surprise death of another judge.
At that time, Tochtermann had not yet passed through all the stages in the state justice system required for a presiding judge. The change took place at the beginning of September once he had fulfilled all the requirements.
Patent chamber gets new leadership
Only a week after Tochtermann took office, he had a sensational case on his desk: the oral hearing in a series of lawsuits against the automobile industry concerning connected cars (case ID: 7 O 190/17). In September 2017, chip manufacturer Broadcom sued Audi and VW for infringing several patents relating to chips for wireless communication in cars, for example with end devices via Bluetooth and wifi. Some were filed by Broadcom and some by Avago. Both companies have been operating under the Broadcom umbrella since 2015.
According to sources, Broadcom has filed a total of 18 lawsuits. In the meantime, a number of co-litigants have joined Audi and VW, such as automotive supplier Harman Becker and chip manufacturer Nvidia. It is thought to be the first connected cars case in Europe. Industry experts expect many more of these lawsuits in the future. The interest in the hearing was therefore unsurprisingly high; many lawyers, in-house IP experts and other observers were present.
Tochtermann used the opportunity to draw attention to the new situation in court. He emphasized that the Regional Court now has three presiding judges with patent experience – even though the new 14th Civil Chamber is technically an antitrust chamber. Rombach recently received considerable praise for the way she conducted the patent proceedings. In addition to the 7th Civil Chamber, there is another bench specialised in patent law, namely the 2nd Civil Chamber under the presiding judge Holger Kircher.
In fact, another oral hearing and the first ruling in the Broadcom case should have taken place last week, but was postponed until 21st September, probably as a result of the staff changes as well as the complexity of the case. The second oral hearing was also postponed. Tochtermann intends to announce the verdict in the case heard on Friday on 26th October.
After Düsseldorf, the Regional Court Mannheim is the German patent court with the highest number of patent cases. It is also one of Europe’s most important patent courts with an excellent reputation, especially for mobile phone lawsuits.
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