The Forgotten Right of Independent Creation – Judgments from the Finnish and Swedish Supreme Courts

(Note: The picture is unrelated to the Finnish case)

Setting the Stage

Copyright plays a very important role in the creative industries. But what also plays a very important role for the mere existence of those industries is inspiration. Virtually every musician or artist is inspired by other musicians or artists, every painter is inspired by other painters, that is the way the world works and denying this would be quite naïve to say the least. This short introduction brings us to the topic of this post. If you create an entirely new and independent work, you will not have to seek any permission from the copyright owner to reproduce or distribute your own work. This is the rule in many jurisdictions in the world. But if you use another’s work to make an adaptation, you would need permission. But where to draw the line?

Judgment of the Swedish Supreme Court

On 21 February 2017, the Supreme Court of Sweden had handed down a judgment (T 1963-15) in a quite interesting case. At the heart of dispute was a photograph and a painting which was alleged to infringe Swedish copyright law. The photographer had followed a person who was a suspect in the murder of the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Plame. The photographer managed to get a photo of the suspect, which was then used in the mass media. Another individual then used the photograph as a model and painted a work which he named “Swedish scapegoats”. The painter displayed the painting on the Museum of Modern Arts in Stockholm, published a picture of the painting on his website and sold posters of the painting. The question at dispute was whether the painter had infringed the copyright attached to the photograph.

The question was whether the work was an independent work or an adaptation, which is dependent upon the original work. The Supreme Court briefly compared the two works and did consider that one could, at a first glance, come to a conclusion that the painting would be an adaptation of the photograph. However, there were differences related inter alia to the technique used.

Additionally, the evaluation had to be made based an overall consideration. The Supreme Court held that the painting was indeed to be considered to be  an independent work. The Supreme Court considered the painting to have a different purpose compared to the photograph. The purpose of the painting was not to portray the individual, which was of course the main purpose of the photograph. Rather, the painting was created to critique the general need to have scapegoats in mass media and was also considered to be a commentary of the current times and society. The person depicted was considered a phenomena in the painting and a bearer of the symbolic message expressed by the painting.

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Decompiling the rules on trade secrets, software and reverse engineering – the sequel

In my previous post from January last year I discussed reverse engineering in light of the Trade Secrets Directive (“TSD”) as well as the Software Directive (“SD”). I strongly recommend you to review my previous post (here) before reading this piece, since said post lays the foundations for the arguments and considerations discussed below.

The focus of this article will lie on implementation of the provision on reverse engineering in Finnish legislation. A very interesting aspect here is the relationship between trade secrets and copyright, which is why I have chosen to discuss in particular in this post.

Background

As a consequence of the adoption of the TSD, the Finnish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment (“MEAE”) assigned a working group to prepare the national implementation of the TSD in Finland. On 18 October 2017, the working group published its recommendation (“Finnish Proposal”) in which it proposes reform and consolidation of the Finnish legislation concerning the protection and civil enforcement of trade secrets. The aim is to enhance the protection of trade secrets by providing effective legal remedies against trade secret misappropriation. In the Finnish Proposal, it is suggested that the TSD would be mainly implemented by a wholly new Trade Secrets Act.

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International IP Exhaustion and the Judgment of the Supreme Court of the United States in Impression v. Lexmark

Setting the Stage – IP Exhaustion

IP rights are neither perpetual nor limitless. In fact, IP rights are inter alia limited in scope, duration and by express exceptions. A sometimes forgotten limitation of IP rights is exhaustion, or the “first sale doctrine”, which is the name it bears in the U.S.

In essence, the IP right related to a certain article is considered to be exhausted once it has been sold with the consent of the IP holder. From a geographical perspective, two alternative principles (leading to very different outcomes) can be distinguished. The first one is national exhaustion, which entails that only a sale of an article within the relevant national territory would exhaust the IP right. According to a second principle, such territorial distinction is not recognized, i.e., a sale anywhere in the world can exhaust the IP right (international exhaustion).

In the U.S., the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Federal Circuit) as well as the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) have considered the question of exhaustion from many different perspectives in their earlier judgments. In this article, I will discuss the judgment of the SCOTUS in a quite recent case regarding exhaustion, Impression v. Lexmark. The judgment was handed down on 30 May 2017.

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Fresh EUIPO Report on trade secrets and patents – Finnish companies top the list in use of trade secrets

Last month, the EUIPO published an interesting report titled “Protecting innovation thru trade secrets and patents: determinants for European Union firms” (“the Report”). Seven findings have been included in Executive Summary, and in this post I will dig into the three findings I find most interesting (No. 2, 4 and 5 in the Report).

“The use of trade secrets for protecting innovations is higher than the use of patents by most types of companies, in most economic sectors and in all Member States”

Upon first reading, I didn’t find this very surprising. Namely, virtually all companies have some kind of trade secrets like e.g., sales or related data, but only some companies are innovative enough to be granted patents even if they would apply. But what surprised me somewhat was that Finland (where I reside and practice law) was the country where trade secrets would be used the most compared to all other countries in Europe (page 28 of the Report). I found this surprising, since while every serious IP lawyer must know trade secret law, the topic is not widely debated in Finland. In Finland, as in many other countries in the world, trade secrets law is still the “Cinderella” of IP.

Based on the Report, large companies typically utilize both trade secrets and patents on a larger scale compared to SMEs. Nevertheless, Finnish SMEs are the heaviest users of trade secret protection in Europe, based on the report (page 30 of the Report). Namely, a staggering 76,8 % of Finnish SMEs use trade secrets to protect trade innovations according to the Report. Innovative SMEs in Finland use trade secrets 2,5 more than patents. This may of course be rooted in several different factual and legal aspects. By way of example, patents are of course more expensive and the threshold may not always be met (e.g., novelty and inventive step). Also, patents have a fixed term (20 years), while trade secrets do not. Continue reading “Fresh EUIPO Report on trade secrets and patents – Finnish companies top the list in use of trade secrets”

Reverse burden of proof and trade secrets in patent litigation – Part two

 

In my previous post (here), I discussed the reverse burden of proof on an international level and the potential tension which could emerge between the patent and trade secrets regimes in this context. In this post, I will turn the focus to Europe and discuss the regional provisions as well as the relevant provisions of the UPC Agreement.

The Enforcement Directive and the Trade Secrets Directive

There are a few provisions in the Enforcement Directive on confidentiality in court proceedings. The need to preserve confidentiality in intellectual property litigation is recognized in the recital of the directive (Recital 20). In addition, a few provisions (Arts. 6 (2), 7 (1) and 8 (2) (e)) of the directive deal with the protection of confidential information in IP litigation.

The drafters of the directive have recognized the need to protect the confidential information of the adverse party. But what is to be noted is that the Enforcement Directive does not contain any provision on the reverse burden of proof in patent litigation, or the protection of trade secrets in these situations.

The Trade Secrets Directive includes a specific provision (Art. 9) on the protection of trade secrets in litigation concerning the unlawful use or disclosure of a secret (See my post on trade secret litigation here). Ergo, said provision is not applicable in patent litigation. However, Art. 9 of the Trade Secrets Directive could provide for certain general examples of how trade secrets could be protected in patent litigation. These include restricting access to documents, restricting access to hearings, and providing non-confidential versions of judgments. There should for example be no immediate obstacle for a national legislator to include similar provisions in national laws.

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Reverse burden of proof and trade secrets in patent litigation – Part one

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Background – lack of protection

For a long time in many European countries, pharmaceutical compounds were not eligible for patent protection. Prior to the adoption of TRIPS, there were actually 22 countries in which the protection of pharmaceutical compounds was unavailable. Innovative pharmaceutical developers were only able to indirectly try to protect their pharmaceutical product by protecting the process for manufacturing the product. At the time, some states made efforts to compensate for the lack of product protection in different ways. In Finland, you could apply for a so called “analogous process patent”, by which you were able to get a patent for if you had developed a new product, but the scope of protection was, odd as it may seem, nevertheless restricted to the manufacturing process.

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TVCatchup II – Retransmission by cable not “exempted” in the InfoSoc Directive

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Last November, I reported on the GS Media case (C-160/15), which certainly gave rise to some debate. It appears that the CJEU is quite actively handing down judgments in the area of copyright. This is perhaps not too surprising, since the member states still have quite different national legislations and the harmonization from the EU is by no means exhaustive. Additionally, and more importantly, especially national copyright laws lag behind the rapid technical development, which is why many questions of interpretation may arise in national courts.

Only a few days ago, on 1 March, the CJEU handed down its judgment (C-275/15) in the case TVCatchup II. The national law in the UK included a provision, which roughly provided that copyright is not infringed in the case of immediate retransmission by cable. The relevant question from the UK court was “whether Article 9 of Directive 2001/29, and specifically the concept of ‘access to cable of broadcasting services’, must be interpreted as covering and permitting national legislation which provides that copyright is not infringed in the case of the immediate retransmission by cable, including, where relevant, via the internet, in the area of initial broadcast, of works broadcast on television channels subject to public service obligations.”

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Punitive damages slipping into IP enforcement in Europe?

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The U.S. is known to have a regime of punitive damages in many different areas of law. This concept has however not won any significant ground in Europe, where one usually is allowed to be awarded only the actual damages suffered.

Last week, the CJEU handed down a quite remarkable judgment on damages in IP infringement cases (case C-367/15). The Polish Supreme Court had sought guidance from the CJEU on how to interpret the Enforcement Directive (2004/48/EC).

Poland had a national provision, which provided an alternative for an IP holder to seek damages corresponding to two or three times of a hypothetical license fee. The question was whether the Polish national provision could be seen to be compatible with EU law. The Advocate General (AG), in essence, answered in the negative (AG opinion). But the CJEU took a different approach. The CJEU concluded that the Enforcement Directive does not as such preclude a provision allowing for an IP holder to claim twice the amount of a hypothetical license fee. In its reasoning, the CJEU inter alia referred to international instruments (TRIPS, Berne, Rome) and also emphasized the fact that the Enforcement Directive is a minimum standard directive.

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Decompiling the rules on trade secrets, software and reverse engineering

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My last post concerned trade secret litigation (read it here), and since I am (at least momentarily) quite fascinated by the subject of trade secrets, I decided to do a follow-up post on another topical issue in this field. In trade secret law, two types of behavior are generally considered to be allowed: i. independent discovery and ii. reverse engineering. Especially the latter sparked discussion in the EU with the arrival of the new Trade Secrets Directive (2016/943) (“TSD”). Reverse engineering is allowed based on Art. 3 (1) (b) and recital 16 of the TSD. Recital 16 of the TSD stipulates that

“[…] Reverse engineering of a lawfully acquired product should be considered as a lawful means of acquiring information, except when otherwise contractually agreed. The freedom to enter into such contractual arrangements can, however, be limited by law.”

Let’s pause here for a moment and decompile this provision:

  • Main rule: If you lawfully acquire a product, you may reverse engineer it.
    • Exception: Reverse engineering is not allowed if it has been contractually agreed that such behavior is not permitted.
      • Exception to exception: However, the freedom to enter into such an agreement restricting the permissibility of reverse engineering may be restricted by law. This, in a sense, takes you back to the main rule in the first bullet point.

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Shhh….Keeping the Secret Secret and Trade Secret Litigation

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“Whatever you do, don’t tell anyone”

(Queens of the Stone Age – The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret)

I doubt Josh Homme was thinking about trade secrets when he wrote the above lyrics, but there’s some valuable “legal advice” hidden in those lines. Namely, as often pointed out, once a trade secret is out, it may be lost forever.

Indeed, the secret maybe lost but not necessarily given away for free. Trade secret legislation is designed particularly for these unfortunate situations. Once the secret is out, you may not be able to get it back in the bottle again. But you may be able to stop further spreading of the secret and at least get some damages from the perpetrator. This will usually mean you will have to go to court for enforcement. And this is where it may get a bit tricky: Alas, in order for the enforcement to be successful you will probably have to disclose your secret. That doesn’t sound very tempting if your trade secret is valuable, does it? Continue reading “Shhh….Keeping the Secret Secret and Trade Secret Litigation”