As of 1 September 2013, the Market Court pulled back the curtain on its operations as the new centralized court for intellectual property (IP) related matters in Finland. With this long-awaited reform, the Market Court obtained significant new jurisdiction over all IP related dispute and administrative appeal matters making Finland the first Nordic country to have a specialized IP court. Roschier has the privilege of representing a client in the first civil action filed at the Market Court after the start of its operations as the centralized IP court.
With the new system the Market Court is now the first instance to hear all civil matters (including precautionary measure matters) concerning patents, utility models, trademarks, trade names, designs, integrated circuits, plant variety rights, as well as copyright and related rights. In addition to civil matters, the Market Court now has appellate jurisdiction over IP-related administrative matters, including decisions of the National Board of Patents and Registration (NBPR) concerning industrial property rights, such as appeals relating to IP registrations and oppositions. Also appeals on domain name decisions by the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority (Ficora) fall under the jurisdiction of the Market Court.
The new regime provides for more efficient procedural framework by replacing the previous fragmented system in which jurisdiction was split between various courts in different instances: Earlier, appeals on administrative decisions of the National Board of Patents and Registration (NBPR) were heard by the NBPR’s own Board of Appeal, while the District Court of Helsinki had exclusive jurisdiction over all invalidity, infringement, and other civil actions relating to industrial property rights. Copyright matters were in turn handled in a number of jurisdictions, while jurisdiction over unfair business practices was divided between the Market Court and the District Courts. With the new centralized approach, all of the above will now fall under the jurisdictional umbrella of the reformed Market Court. The appeal route is also streamlined as the decisions of the Market Court may be appealed, subject to a leave to appeal, directly to the Supreme Court (civil matters) or to the Supreme Administrative Court (administrative matters). As the Market Court’s jurisdiction is limited to civil and administrative matters, criminal proceedings with an IP linkage continue to be handled by the District Courts.
The Market Court is composed of both legally and technically qualified judges. Given the variety of matters falling within the jurisdiction of the Market Court, the Market Court will be competent to handle different matters in different compositions. Depending on the matter, the composition of the Market Court in IP matters may include, in addition to one or more legally trained judges, for example, one or more Market Court Engineers with technical expertise as well as one or more other specialists. Alongside with the reform the existing Market Court panel was supplemented with legally and technically qualified judges with extensive experience ranging from the judiciary (judges with experience in first and appeal instances) to IP administration and further to private practice (judges with IP lawyer and patent attorney backgrounds).
The Market Court is taking on only new civil IP cases filed on or after 1 September 2013. Thus, the reform does not affect actions already pending before the general courts. However, administrative IP registration matters pending at the Board of Appeal of the NBPR have been transferred to the Market Court during a transition period. Trademark registration matters pending on or after 1 January 2013 and other IP registration matters pending on or after 1 May 2013 at the Board of Appeal have been transferred to the Market Court, to the extent they have not already been decided.
During its first month in operation, the new centralized IP court has welcomed a stream of both new civil actions as well as administrative appeal matters. The centralized regime is also showing its strength in handling cases combining subject matter that previously would have required handling in the first instance at minimum in two different proceedings and in two different courts.
One of the key objectives of the reform has been to improve the judicial expertise in IP matters and, thus, produce more predictable and high quality decisions within shorter handling times. Consequently, in order to achieve the goals of the reform, the new system encourages higher standards of IP litigation. Moreover, handling appeals in the Market Court, compared to the earlier administrative route, places increasing demands on litigation expertise. In order to facilitate the transition, the Market Court has recently published a detailed process guide for attorneys to streamline the proceedings. The procedural expertise will be of heightened importance as appeals to the Market Court’s decisions to both the Supreme Court in contentious IP matters and the Supreme Administrative Court in administrative matters are subject to obtaining a leave to appeal and, thus, majority of the decisions of the Market Court will remain final. With only one chance to argue the case and present evidence, thorough preparation as well as litigation skills are ever-higher priorities. At the same time, the opportunity to obtain a final decision without delay makes Finland an attractive country to file an IP suit.