In two interesting judgments, in two different cases, Justice Murlidhar of the Delhi High Court has ruled on the scope of pleadings in patent infringement lawsuits and the liability of Indian subsidiaries of global app-stores in copyright infringement lawsuits filed by a book publisher.
1. Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson v. Mercury Electronics & Anr.
This is the famous Micromax case that we have blogged about previously on the blog over here and here. Ericsson has sued Micromax for a sum of Rs. 100 crores for infringing 6 of its standard essential patents and even got an ex-parte interim injunction on the very first day.
This specific order of Justice Murlidhar, dated December 6, 2013 (available over here) was necessitated by an interlocutory application filed by Ericsson under S. 151 of the CPC requesting the Court to take on record certain affidavits by Ericsson’s executives and a claim-chart in a sealed envelope. The order is not very clear on why these affidavits were filed under S. 151 (which deals with the ‘inherent powers of the court and is supposed to be a provision of the last resort).
Micromax however did object to the attempt to bring on record the affidavits, with its counsel Amit Sibal arguing as follows:
“Ericsson has failed to construe each of the suit patent claims in the body of the plaint itself. He submits that in a suit for infringement of patents, it was mandatory for the Plaintiff to set out, in detail, the claims under the patents as well as explain whether the patent covered a particular component/element/device/method etc. corresponding to a technical specification for a technology that forms a part of a standard. In other words, it was necessary for the Plaintiff to show that the suit patent was an essential patent for such standard. According to him, merely describing the function of each patent, as has been done in para 20 of the plaint, is insufficient. He stated that the plaint only described the net result that could be achieved by deploying the suit patents and not how that result was achieved.”
Sibal continued with the argument that “that the attempt to bring on record the affidavit of Mr. Olofsson ought not to be permitted. It would amount to indirectly permitting the plaint to be amended to make good an obvious defect. He submitted that Court should consider Ericsson’s prayer for interim injunction only on the basis of the existing pleadings without taking into account the affidavit of Mr. Olofsson.”
Given the fact that Singh & Singh the law firm representing Ericsson, engaged three top-notch Senior Advocates to argue the matter, it was obviously a high-stakes issue for Ericsson.
Examining the precedents on the point, the High Court summarised the position of law as follows “In sum, the law explained in the above decisions is that the plaint itself must set out with sufficient clarity the specifications and the claims under the suit patent, the results they seek to achieve and in what manner the defendants have infringed the suit patents.”
After examining the affidavits, the Court concluded that the information disclosed in the affidavits was within the purview of the plaint & the documents filed along with the plaint and hence Ericsson was allowed by the High Court to bring on record the affidavits. Ericsson can therefore use these affidavits to argue even the interim injunction.
The decision could have been more nuanced. For example a plaint is supposed to contain only facts and the issue of claim construction, infringement etc. are mixed issues of law and fact. Indian courts should therefore give plaintiffs more leeway in drafting of their pleadings. Expecting plaintiffs to pack their plaints with the most intricate details of their patents is going to make matter very complicated.
2. Blueberry Books & Othrs v. Google India Pvt. Ltd. & Othrs
In this first of its kind lawsuit, Blueberry Books a publisher of children’s books had sued a web and mobile application developer for making available books on an app titled “Story Time for Kids”, whose copyright was owned by the Plaintiff, through various app-stores, without taking prior permission of the Plaintiff. The remaining defendants were Google Inc., Research in Motion, Apple and Amazon, along with their Indian subsidiaries (with the exception of Amazon), because the app in question was made available through these online stores.
The present judgment of Justice Murlidhar, issued on November 28, 2012 (available over here) was with specific regard to Order 1 Rule 10 applications filed by the Indian subsidiaries of Google, RIM & Apple on the grounds that they had no control over the app-stores in question.
Blueberry, represented by Singh & Singh, had argued that the subsidiaries were necessary parties since they had assets within India unlike their parent companies. The Court declined to buy this argument concluding that “The mere fact that Defendant No.2 happens to be the subsidiary of Defendant No.1 and Defendant No.3 a subsidiary of Defendant No.4 would not be sufficient for making them parties to the suit, if they are not, in any way, involved in the infringing activities complained of.” As a result, the Court deleted the subsidiaries of Google Inc. and RIM.
Apple, represented by Udit Sood, was not so lucky. The Court ruled that prima facie it appeared that the iTunes stores could be accessed through the website of Apple India Pvt. Ltd. thereby giving enough cause to retain Apple India as a party to the suit. The Court ruled that the issue of whether Apple India Pvt. Ltd. had control over iTunes, could be decided only after evidence was led during trial.
Amazon Inc., represented by Sneha Jain & Sahil Sethi, argued that it should be exempted on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction since the app in question could be downloaded only within the U.S. Hence Amazon argued that only the American Courts would have jurisdiction over the claims for copyright infringement. Justice Murlidhar agreed and deleted Amazon from the array of parties.
Both of the cases above are very interesting and will be all the more interesting if they actually go to trial.
Clarification: This article has previously, erroneously identified the arguing counsel for Micromax as Akhil Sibal instead of Amit Sibal, who in fact argued the case.