The Finnish Supreme Court gave a precedent (KKO:2023:61) where it found that the Market Court had erred in not allowing a patent holder to be heard of the defendant’s invalidity arguments based on which the Market Court had refused the patent holder’s application for a preliminary injunction. The Finnish Supreme Court’s ruling will strengthen the presumed validity of patents and implies more efficient preliminary injunction proceedings.
Background of the case
The case concerned a European patent FI/EP 2,959,894 protecting the use of fingolimod, a substance used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, based on which its holder Company A with its group companies proceeded to the Finnish Market Court with a request for a preliminary injunction against Company Band its local representative who in their first response claimed that the patent lacked inventive step.
The Market Court then invited both parties to issue their respective written statements. Company A (the patent holder) defended the validity of the patent with reference to prior art documents that the Technical Boards of Appeal of the European Patent Office (EPO) had considered when granting the patent after the patent had initially been rejected by the EPO’s examining division. Company B then went on to argue with further details how the Technical BoA had erred in its conclusion and that it was more likely that the patent was invalid.
After having heard both parties each two times in writing, the Market Court gave its ruling where it dismissed the preliminary injunction on the ground that Company B had successfully challenged the presumed validity of the patent.
The Supreme Court’s ruling
Company A appealed to the Supreme Court which found that the Market Court had erred in not hearing Company A (the patent holder) on the invalidity grounds which Company B put forward in its latest written statement. The Supreme Court motivated its decision with reference to the principle of fair trial, the fundamental right to be heard in one’s own matter, and its own earlier case law (KKO:2019:34) providing that in preliminary injunction proceedings, the presumed validity of patents is particularly high. Since the Market Court found Company B’s detailed invalidity arguments relevant enough to bypass the validity of the patent, it should have offered Company A a chance to be heard, according to the Supreme Court.
Implications of the ruling
First, the ruling of the Supreme Court further strengthens the presumed validity of a patent in Finnish preliminary injunction proceedings. The threshold has already been high, but now the bar seems even higher in the sense that the patent holder’s right to be heard of potentially relevant invalidity arguments has been emphasized. Indeed, patent holders can now better rely on the presumed validity of their patents.
Second, the ruling will most likely speed up Finnish preliminary injunction proceedings. In its ruling, the Supreme Court noted that in summary and urgent preliminary injunction proceedings, all invalidity arguments should as a main rule be brought up by the defendant in the first response. Otherwise, the application for a preliminary injunction should be decided on the premise that the patent is valid. As such, defendants in preliminary injunction proceedings will be wise to take this into account when defending on invalidity grounds.
Finally, it is possible that instead of hearing the parties in writing multiple times, which has been common in Finnish preliminary injunction practice, we will now start to see more oral hearings as a way to conclude the proceedings. Indeed, the Supreme Court noted twice in its ruling how hearing the parties efficiently in urgent preliminary injunction proceedings may also take place in an oral hearing where all the questions and arguments can be assessed and commented simultaneously. Such a trend would most certainly be welcomed by those in favour of efficient preliminary injunction proceedings and will require both the parties to submit well-founded arguments early in the proceedings and be prepared to elaborate on and defend against them in a possible oral hearing.