Long read

Patent cases in Germany fall, but Munich bucks the trend

Research by JUVE Patent shows that the number of new patent cases at German patent courts fell slightly in 2019, compared with 2018. Düsseldorf Regional Court, for example, recorded a decline in patent infringement cases of 15%. Mannheim is also beginning to see a slip from its previously dominant position. But contrary to the general trend, patent cases at Munich Regional Court increased by 27%. However, a general decline is expected to continue.

26 June 2020 by Konstanze Richter

Munich Regional Court, patent disputes Munich, Düsseldorf and Mannheim are home to the three most important courts for patent cases in Germany. ©JUVE Patent

According to JUVE Patent research, the three most important patent courts in Germany saw a total of 708 new infringement suits concerning technical property rights being filed in 2019. In the previous year, the same courts recorded 744 new patent cases. The difference in the figures corresponds to a decline of 4.8%.

Decline in patent cases at Düsseldorf

Düsseldorf Regional Court is still the front-runner in terms of number of court cases. However, Düsseldorf Regional Court is also where the decline in patent cases is most pronounced. In 2019, the three civil chambers 4a, 4b and 4c saw only 361 new lawsuits filed. Of these, 326 were patent disputes, 21 concerned utility models and 14 involved employee invention rights. In the previous year, parties filed 425 new lawsuits.

In addition, last year Düsseldorf Regional Court saw 419 completed legal disputes. Many of these were lengthy proceedings involving FRAND aspects. Example includes the dispute between the MPEG LA pool against Huawei, and the pool’s dispute with ZTE, concerning video coding technology. A further example of cases involving telecommunications technology are the Globalfoundries’ lawsuits against chip manufacturer TSMC.

However, lawsuits concerning pharmaceutical or medical technology patents also frequently end up in Düsseldorf. Examples are in the cases of Amgen vs. Sanofi, Brahms vs. Radiometer and Beckman Coulter vs. Sysmex.

Munich is SEP hotspot

On the other hand, Munich Regional Court recorded a surprising increase in new claims, which rose to 183. This is compared with the previous year, which saw 144 new patent cases. In 2019, the court settled a total of 165 cases. Of the cases, parties settled 49 through a judgment. Parties settled the remaining 116 cases for other reasons, for example the parties withdrew the claim, the parties decided on a settlement, or because parties suspended the proceedings.

Munich is especially popular for SEP claims, with some major proceedings in the telecommunications industry take place. For example, Nokia, Sharp and Conversant filed a number of connected cars lawsuits in Munich. Munich judges also handed down the highly-regarded ruling on the anti-anti-suit injunction in the dispute between Nokia and Continental.

Munich Regional Court experienced a real boom in patent lawsuits in the fourth quarter of 2019, with 66 new lawsuits from October to the end of December alone. This is almost twice as many as in the same period the previous year. Between October and December 2018, parties filed 35 new cases. Initial figures from spring 2020 indicate that the positive trend will continue.

Interesting procedure

The court also attributes this development to the evaluation of the ‘Munich procedure’, a so-called procedure for adhering to strict deadlines. Following its introduction a decade ago, Max Planck Institute researchers have now evaluated the procedure. The court called on the legal profession to make suggestions for improvements.

In early 2020, the Regional Court Munich also published FRAND guidelines on how companies should deal with the FRAND defence in patent disputes as part of the Munich procedure. The strict deadlines set out by the procedure ideally lead to a first-instance ruling after 12 months.

But in contrast to the Regional Court Düsseldorf, the Munich court has a detailed first hearing. Here, the court discusses critical issues with the parties. The parties then have until the second hearing to make further written statements.

Mannheim relegated to third place

Munich is becoming an increasingly important location for patent disputes. In doing so, the city is ousting Mannheim Regional Court from second place. A total of 164 new patent cases were filed at the two patent chambers in Mannheim in 2019, which is around 6% fewer than in the previous year. In 2018, the Regional Court Mannheim had 175 new cases.

Of the 164 proceedings filed in 2019, 148 were patent disputes, eleven concerned utility models and five involved employee invention rights.

Deceptive increase

All German courts that can hear technical property rights claims recorded the filing of 789 new lawsuits. This number is slightly higher than the 786 cases in the previous year. However, various factors distort the picture.

A stark difference can be seen in the figures of Hamburg Regional Court. In 2018, the court registered only four new cases. This was surprising, as the court was considered the fourth most important German patent court. For example, Hamburg was one of the courts to hear the Europe-wide Bayer vs. Ceva case, concerning a veterinary medicine patent.

However, in 2019 Hamburg Regional Court saw 47 new patent cases. According to the court, the major discrepancy between 2018 and 2019 is because the court recorded the figures differently. The court stated that this year, it recorded cases by hand, as last year’s method proved too imprecise. Of the 47 new cases from last year, the end of May 2020 saw a total of 30 cases completed.

Braunschweig and Nuremberg weigh in

Last year, JUVE Patent had no data from the courts in Braunschweig and Nuremberg for 2018. However, in 2019 Braunschweig Regional Court reported a total of six new cases. The court supplied no figures regarding the number of completed cases. Nuremberg Regional Court saw eight new cases. Parties settled three of the cases. One settled via judgment, one via settlement, and one through a withdrawal of the application.

At Frankfurt Regional Court, the figures declined slightly between 2018 and 2019. The former year saw 30 new patent cases, with 26 in 2019. In the same time period, eight settled by judgments, and five by settlements. Parties also withdrew one lawsuit, with other cases settled via means of, for example, dropped charges.

Overall, the number of newly-filed lawsuits on technical property rights in Germany is expected to continue to decline.

Influence of coronavirus

Above all, disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic could influence case numbers over 2020. Hearings were postponed, and many courts gradually reduced their activities from mid-March onwards.

In many patent cases, courts restricted public access to hearings and postponed all oral hearings of minor importance. One such case was the Nokia vs. Daimler dispute at Mannheim Regional Court. From April onwards, the courts gradually began to resume work, conducting oral hearings by video for the first time. This is especially true of Munich Regional Court.

Nevertheless, the measures will likely affect case numbers for the current year.