June saw the decision of the High Court of Northern Ireland in Siemens AG v Seagate Technology (Ireland) handed down a year after the hearing of the case. Mr Justice Deeny expressed his regret that the shortage of judicial manpower and greatly increased workload had prevented the judgment from being handed down earlier. Patent litigation is a great rarity in Northern Ireland.

The case concerned a patent for magnoresistive sensors owned by Siemens. Siemens sought a declaration of infringement in respect of “wafers” manufactured by Seagate at their factory in Springtown, just outside Derry, and an injunction restraining further manufacture. The wafers manufactured at the Springtown factory are sent to another of Seagate’s factories in the Far East and incorporated into hard drives there. The fundamental question was whether the wafers manufactured by Seagate were magnoresistive sensors and so constituted an infringement of the patent. Seagate claimed that the patent should be revoked for obviousness or insufficiency.

Why did Siemens choose to bring proceedings in the High Court of Northern Ireland? The Judge noted in his judgment that Siemens could have chosen to plead infringement of the finished hard drive products rather than the wafers alone which, he hinted might have been easier to show, and could have been brought in the Patents Court in London. Deeny J. stated that, despite this point being made repeatedly, Siemens chose not to answer it and so its reasons for bringing the case in Northern Ireland remain unclear. Perhaps Siemens was of the view that its patent was more likely to survive a case in Northern Ireland than one in London?

In any event, the Judge found that the wafers manufactured by Seagate did not infringe the patent. Having made this finding, the judge declined making a final finding on validity and merely expressed his provisional view. He was reluctant to make a decision on validity where courts in two other jurisdictions (the United States and Germany) had taken opposite views on the matter. His provisional view, however, was that the patent was invalid for obviousness.