Court of Appeal Rules on Language of Proceedings - Considering the challenges faced by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)

In a decision dated April 17, 2024, the Court of Appeal of the Unified Patent Court (UPC) issued a ruling that sets a significant precedent regarding the language of proceedings, particularly focusing on the fairness and practical implications of such decisions within the patent litigation environment. This decision, involving Curio Bioscience Inc. and 10x Genomics, Inc., revolved around a contested request to change the language of proceedings from German to English, shedding light on the balance of interests particularly favoring the defendant’s position when equally weighted against the claimant’s.

Decision Overview
Curio Bioscience, appealing a previous ruling by the President of the Court of First Instance, argued for a change to English, citing that both parties are U.S. companies and predominantly use English for business and technical communications. The company highlighted the substantial burden and disadvantage imposed by conducting defenses in German, a non-native language for the firm, emphasizing the disproportionate strain due to its smaller size compared to 10x Genomics.

10x Genomics countered by underscoring the procedural and traditional appropriateness of using German, particularly pointing out the local division’s German-speaking context and disputing Curio's classification as an SME and its unfamiliarity with German.

Court’s Analysis and Ruling 
The Court of Appeal assessed the fairness of changing the proceedings' language by considering all relevant circumstances, particularly those concerning the parties' positions. Significant points from the court’s analysis include:

  • Relevance of Technology and Evidence Language: The primary language used in the relevant technology field and the language in which most evidence is presented were deemed crucial factors.
  • Impact on Parties: The court emphasized that the ability of a party to fully comprehend and participate in proceedings without a language barrier is fundamental, dismissing the argument that the presence of multilingual representatives mitigates language challenges.
  • Comparative Disadvantage: The smaller size of Curio Bioscience and its relative unfamiliarity with German compared to its counterpart played a critical role in the court's decision-making process, leaning towards minimizing the procedural disadvantages faced by smaller entities.
  • Defendant’s Advantage: Acknowledging the inherent advantages a claimant has in choosing the venue and timing of a lawsuit, the court found that when interests are balanced, the defendant’s needs take precedence in determining the language of proceedings.

Ultimately, the Court of Appeal overturned the initial decision and mandated the use of English for proceedings, aligning with the language of the patent and the predominant language used in presented evidence and business operations of the involved parties.

Key Takeaways:

  • Defendant’s Leverage: This ruling underlines the UPC’s approach to fairly balance the interests of the parties, with a notable emphasis on the position and needs of the defendant in language determination.
  • Language of the Patent: The decision reinforces the principle that the language in which a patent is granted holds significant weight in legal proceedings, impacting the fairness and efficiency of the process.
  • Practical Implications for Smaller Entities: The ruling is particularly impactful for smaller companies engaged in cross-border litigation, highlighting the UPC’s commitment to ensuring that language does not become a barrier to justice.