Patent enforcement proceedings

Lawsuits and courts

What legal or administrative proceedings are available for enforcing patent rights against an infringer? Are there specialised courts in which a patent infringement lawsuit can or must be brought?

Mexico is a civil law country, without discovery, and has a unique, unified system wherein both infringement and invalidity actions are filed before the same government agency (which is dependent on the authority of the President) that grants patents: the Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI). Decisions issued by IMPI (concerning both infringement and validity actions) can be challenged before a federal specialist court –­­ in other words, the Specialist Chamber for Intellectual Property matters (SEPI) of the Federal Tribunal of Administrative Affairs (TFJA). Moreover, sentences rendered by SEPI-TFJFA can be challenged by means of a constitutional appeal (known as an amparo trial) tried before a Federal Collegiate Circuit Tribunal, where the magistrates examine if the sentence was issued within constitutional parameters and, in some very rare cases (ie, only when a transcendental constitutional rights issue is left undecided or the direct interpretation of a constitutional principle is at stake), an amparo revision recourse can be filed so that the Mexican Supreme Court is able to review that constitutional case.

Trial format and timing

What is the format of a patent infringement trial?

Mexico has no jury trial for patent litigations, and every case is decided by bench trial, first as an administrative procedure (before IMPI) that is carried out in a very similar manner to a trial before a court (Federal Procedure Law describes them as ‘trial-like procedures) further appeals are handled by a federal court (TFJA or Circuit Tribunal). Because patent matters are industrial property (IP) issues, they are only handled by federal-level courts, the exception being the civil claims concerning the recovery of damages of losses that can be tried by local (state) courts in each of the 32 Mexican states after a firm and definitive ruling has been handled by federal authorities.

Considering that in Mexico the majority of proceedings are done in writing, most evidence is documentary, while some affidavits may be allowed in their written form, and no deposition nor cross-examination is permitted. Expert witness opinions are indeed routinely used, but their opinions are limited to their written form only.

In the first instance, the administrative procedure for patent infringement usually takes between 18 and 36 months, depending on the complexity of the actual case.

Proof requirements

What are the burdens of proof for establishing infringement, invalidity and unenforceability of a patent?

First, under Mexican law there are only infringements and invalidity (nullification) causes, and there is no ‘unenforceability’ cause foreseen in law. Considering this, the burden of proof is on the side of the plaintiff almost exclusively (with just one exception concerning process patents, which we mention ahead), in which said party has the obligation to credit each and every part of the claimed infringing conduct, by means of documents, expert witness opinions, etc.

The only exception to this rule is established under article 335 of the Federal Law for the Protection of Industrial Property (LFPPI http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/ref/lfppi.htm), but this exception only is also subject to the burden of proof considering the term ‘significant probability’ foreseen in this chapter and has to be credited via the evidence apportioned by the plaintiff.

As mentioned in previous answers, it is worth mentioning that witness depositions and confessional statements are not allowed according to the LFPPI.

Standing to sue

Who may sue for patent infringement? Under what conditions can an accused infringer bring a lawsuit to obtain a judicial ruling or declaration on the accusation?

Any patent owner or their recorded licensee is legally entitled to file the corresponding infringement before the IMPI, and such authority is legally empowered to issue a provisional or preliminary administrative order (similar to a preliminary injunction) intended to immobilise and secure infringing products at the place where the infringing articles are located (including customs offices in the case of imported items).

Because the IMPI is obliged to examine legal standing to admit the infringement claim, the alleged infringer could file an extraordinary amparo federal appeal before a district court to combat the decision of IMPI to admit the infringement claim as a result of the recognition of the legal standing of the plaintiff.

It should be mentioned that witness depositions and confessional statements are not allowed according to the LFPPI.

Inducement, and contributory and multiple party infringement

To what extent can someone be liable for inducing or contributing to patent infringement? Can multiple parties be jointly liable for infringement if each practises only some of the elements of a patent claim, but together they practise all the elements?

Under Mexican law, there is only direct infringement as there are no provisions to consider contributory infringement, inducement. If several parties are infringing, each of them has to be sued independently by the plaintiff according to the actual direct infringement cause foreseen in the different sections of article 386 of LFPPI.

Joinder of multiple defendants

Can multiple parties be joined as defendants in the same lawsuit? If so, what are the requirements? Must all of the defendants be accused of infringing all of the same patents?

Contrary to the practice in the United States and in other jurisdictions, under Mexican law and practice, each infringement claim should be directed to only one alleged infringer and the conduct foreseen as infringements must be clearly and exclusively established in article 386 of LFPPI. Where there are several infringers, the patent holder is obliged to file separate infringement claims against each infringer.

Infringement by foreign activities

To what extent can activities that take place outside the jurisdiction support a charge of patent infringement?

Following the same line of thought, any activities taking place outside Mexican territory are required to have a direct and clear impact on any of the conducts foreseen by Mexican law as infringements, for example, a clear example of a cause of patent infringement would be to import a product that is either protected by a patent or is a result of the use of a procedure that is patented.

Infringement by equivalents

To what extent can ‘equivalents’ of the claimed subject matter be shown to infringe?

Under Mexican law and practice, there are no ‘equivalents’ when dealing with a patent infringement, namely, the alleged infringing conduct must conform exactly to the claims contained in the patent title that is considered as being infringed.

Discovery of evidence

What mechanisms are available for obtaining evidence from an opponent, from third parties or from outside the country for proving infringement, damages or invalidity?

Mexican Law establishes different mechanisms that could be deemed as having a similar function to what is called ‘discovery’ in other countries, as follows:

  • every person or entity is obliged to provide IMPI with the information and data that the agency requires in a written and duly notified manner, and failure to comply with this obligation constitutes an infringement in itself; and
  • in the course of infringement procedures, IMPI has the legal power to require the counterpart to provide any evidence that is directly under its control and is related and relevant to the case being examined, under the penalty of being subject to both provisional measures ordered against such a party or penalties if it fails to comply with what it is required to produce or inform.
Litigation timetable

What is the typical timetable for a patent infringement lawsuit in the trial and appellate courts?

A typical patent infringement lawsuit could last from 24 to 48 months in the first stage, plus another 24 to 48 months in the following stages (nullity claim appeal and amparo trial), but the time frame largely depends on the complexity of the matter and the number of parties involved in the process.

Litigation costs

What is the typical range of costs of a patent infringement lawsuit before trial, during trial and for an appeal? Are contingency fees permitted?

While the actual figure heavily depends on the complexity of the matter, the fees charged by the counsel, the cost involved in obtaining evidence such as certified copies and translation fees (as all evidence must be submitted in Spanish). As regards government fees, those are around US$600, plus other costs such as certified copies that can vary widely depending on the specific matter. Contingency fees are not expressly forbidden or foreseen in Mexican courts, thus they are permitted only as a private arrangement between plaintiff and attorney in which the responsibility of payment lies with the plaintiff (or the person or entity who hired the attorney and entered into such agreement), as the courts could not validate or repeal a private agreement that is not related to the patent infringement per se.

Court appeals

What avenues of appeal are available following an adverse decision in a patent infringement lawsuit? Is new evidence allowed at the appellate stage?

Any party can opt to file either an administrative reconsideration recourse, which is examined by the same authority that issued the administrative resolution, or a nullity petition that is tried before the SEPI-TFJA. It is worth pointing out that the vast majority (95 per cent) of resolutions to reconsideration recourses confirm the first resolution issued by IMPI; thus, in most cases it is preferable to directly file a nullity petition before the TFJA.

TFJA resolutions can be challenged via a constitutional amparo federal appeal tried before federal circuit courts. The sentence pertaining to the amparo appeal is final and definitive.

Unless extraordinary circumstances arise (ie, there are new facts that occurred after the original infringement procedure ended), new evidence is not allowed, as all evidence should have been filed with the infringement claim.

Competition considerations

To what extent can enforcement of a patent expose the patent owner to liability for a competition violation, unfair competition, or a business-related tort?

Under Mexican law, the owner of a patent is the rightful owner of a monopoly that is permitted directly by the Constitution. Therefore, no argument could be successfully produced involving competition issues. In the same regard, unfair competition is usually construed as actions performed with the aim of unlawfully profiting or taking advantage of any right (including a patent), prestige or good reputation of an actor within the same relevant market. However, any legal action to enforce a patent is an extension of the patent owner’s right under the patent, and any challenge to the enforcement of the patent based on competition violation, unfair competition or a business-related tort would not prosper.

Alternative dispute resolution

To what extent are alternative dispute resolution techniques available to resolve patent disputes?

As per a new chapter contained in the recently published LFPPI (this law entered into force on 5 November 2020), the IMPI has been granted new powers and responsibilities, by means of which such authority is to seek to conciliate interests of conflicting parties. This allows the authority to proactively act to mediate between plaintiff and defendant, but is subjected to the willingness of both parties and, furthermore, the negotiations between parties do not suspend the formal administrative procedure (infringement or invalidation).

Finally, if no agreement is reached, both administrative and judicial authorities still have the primary obligation to resolve the disputes between parties as this is part of the rights recognised by the Mexican Constitution (ie, essential right to an effective access to justice).

Law stated date

Correct on

Give the date on which the information above is accurate.

12 March 2021.