In a recent ruling by the Court of The Hague (ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2018:4591) a defendant/patentee has been ordered to pay the costs of nullity proceedings brought against it, despite not wishing to maintain or assert its patent.
Following infringement proceedings instituted in Germany by Dürr Dental based on European patent EP 1 9292 371 B1 against Acteon, the latter company, active in the same field, started nullity proceedings in the Netherlands against the Dutch part of this patent. Instead of providing arguments against the nullity attacks, Dürr Dental said that it had been, and still was, willing to withdraw the Dutch part of the patent. However, due to the pending proceedings, withdrawal of the patent was not possible anymore without the consent of Acteon. Acteon refused to give this. On the basis of this alleged lack of collaboration on the part of Acteon, Dürr Dental argued that Acteon had to bear the costs of the proceedings, brought without a preliminary warning and considered avoidable by Dürr Dental, and that Article 1019h Rv was not applicable in this case.
As a reminder, Article 1019h Rv provides for a reimbursement of costs by the losing party in IP cases. However, case law stipulates that this is not valid for nullity proceedings, except if the nullity proceedings are a defence against an infringement action or can be considered as a prospective defence of non-infringement.
In the absence of a defence, the Court revoked the Dutch part of the patent. With respect to the argument that the proceedings could have been avoided if Acteon had preliminarily warned Dürr Dental, the Court pointed to the fact that Dürr Dental had been paying annuities for several years to maintain the Dutch part of the patent. At the same time, the Court was of the opinion that in light of the infringement proceedings instituted by Dürr Dental in Germany, Acteon had rightfully started the Dutch nullity proceedings as a prospective defence of non-infringement. However, as Dürr Dental had immediately indicated that it did not wish to defend the Dutch part of its European patent, the Court ruled that only the costs incurred by Acteon until the writ was served, were to be borne by Dürr Dental.
Thus, even if a patentee indicates that it does not wish to exercise its patent rights, it can still be ordered to pay the costs of the proceedings.