Finland is the first Nordic country to constitute a separate court solely for handling intellectual property matters. The Finnish IP Court has been established by expanding the jurisdiction of the Market Court, enabling it to pass judgments in practically all IP matters.
The expansion of competence has been significant; from 1 September 2013 onward, all disputes relating to intellectual property rights, as well as appeals on decisions taken by the registration authorities concerning industrial property rights, fell within the Market Court’s competence. Consequently, 2014 was the first whole year for the court’s new operations.
The Finnish Market Court is a special court hearing competition law, public procurement and market law-related cases and now also all civil IP cases in Finland. The precise jurisdiction is governed by the Act on the Market Court, and the Market Court’s procedural rules are set forth in the Market Court Procedure Act. The Market Court is located in Helsinki and the language of the proceedings is either Finnish or Swedish.
Due to its new authorisation, the Market Court now has exclusive jurisdiction over all IP disputes in Finland and is also serving as first instance in appeals on decisions taken by the registration authorities. Appeals on decisions taken by the Finnish Communications Regulations authority based on the Domain Name Act are also now examined by the new IP Court. The court’s competence is furthermore expanded to applications on precautionary measures. However, criminal cases relating to intellectual property rights are still examined primarily by the local district courts, usually determined by the accused’s place of domicile.
Before the new IP Court was set up, the handling of IP matters in Finland was decentralised. Matters relating to applications for registering industrial property rights were handled as administrative matters and appeals were filed with the Boards of Appeal of the Finnish Patent and Registration Office, possibly with further appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court. As for infringement and cancellation of industrial property rights and copyright disputes, the matters were handled by the Helsinki District Court as first instance, from which appeals were filed with the Supreme Court. Matters related to unfair business practices were handled at the Market Court. Furthermore, precautionary measures relating to intellectual property rights were handled in general district courts in accordance with the Code of Judicial Procedure.
The impractical separation of the handling of IP matters led to situations where similar questions relating to the same IP matter and even between the same parties could be handled in two instances simultaneously. Additionally, the consideration of the distinctive features that are characteristic for intellectual property rights were strained in court proceedings and could only be observed as isolated special provisions in the effective IP legislation.
The average handling time was also regarded as excessive; the Boards of Appeal solved trademark related matters in an average of two to three years, and patent and design matters within one to two years, after the case was submitted. The quality of the reasoning for the decisions was inconsistent, and the conduct of proceedings and the amount of oral hearings in the Boards of Appeal was also in need of improvement.
The most important objective for the new IP Court was to make the procedure of granting intellectual property rights coherent and effective by developing the judicial system. Additional goals for the IP Court have included increasing the expertise, quality and speed of proceedings by legislation concerning the composition of the court and conditions of eligibility for the judges.
The Market Court’s expertise on intellectual property rights was reinforced by recruiting 10 new IP specialised judges, some of whom also possess masters’ degrees in engineering and are particularly well acquainted with patents. The new IP Court is competent when composed of three legally trained members. In matters relating to patents, utility patents and circuit designs, the court is competent in a composition of three legally trained members and a Market Court engineer, which contributes in upholding a sufficient standard of technical expertise.
There are two instances where the appeals against the decisions taken by the Market Court may be filed. Appeals on decisions originating from the registration process can be filed with the Supreme Administrative Court, while appeals on decisions relating to disputes may be submitted to the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, the right of appeal depends on whether the court that will hear the appeal will grant leave to appeal.
The establishment of the IP Court resulted further in that the Boards of Appeal of the Finnish Patent and Registration Office were abolished. The operations by the Boards of Appeal ended 1 January 2014 and all the pending cases were transferred to the Market Court, excluding non-IP matters which were transferred to the Helsinki Administrative Court.
When examining case statistics of 2014, there were altogether 404 cases pending at the start of the year; 1,001 new cases were submitted during the year; and 942 cases were resolved by the end of the year, with 464 cases pending. The goal has been to resolve every case within a year after initiation of proceedings; the current average proceeding time correlates well with the target time, the average being less than six months. The stated time does not apply to IP infringement cases, in which proceedings take longer.
So far the majority of the cases before the IP Court have been appeals against decisions taken in trademark matters. The disputes that were brought to the Market Court concerned primarily either unfair business practices or trademarks. The number of other types of cases is significantly smaller: only seven patent disputes, three design disputes and two copyright-related disputes have been initiated during 2014. The IP Court was brought eight trade name disputes, six actions for precautionary measures, three actions for damages, and one dispute relating to employment invention.
The scarce amount of non-trademark matters brought before the IP Court can be explained by the prevailing practice to determine the place of litigation in advance. The clauses for the venue of judicial proceedings still often direct the cases to the Helsinki District Court, although the new IP Court would be competent to resolve the contractual disputes related to IP infringements. Numerous IP contracts include a standard clause that establishes the judicial venue for disputes to be the Helsinki District Court and the new IP Court is therefore not competent to handle the contractual dispute together with the IP infringement lawsuit. In this sense, the operation of the IP Court has not started quite as expected.
Still, it is safe to state that the Market Court’s new jurisdiction has resulted in an IP Court with a high standard of decisions given by competent specialists. There is even a possibility that the new IP Court will also function as an instance for international patent disputes. One of the future prospects for the IP Court is to develop further in order to have the capacity to serve as a local division for the proposed Unified Patent Court (UPC) in the EU.