In the Champions League of the patent attorneys
: When it comes to patent disputes, companies often go before German courts and local specialists can earn a lot of money from them. Our league table shows who is best at their job.
If an American company picks a fight with a Japanese competitor, they occasionally end up having it out in a German court room. At least, that’s what happened in the dispute between the pharmaceutical manufacturers Merck (USA) and Shionogi (Japan). In 2015, both parties met at the District Court in Düsseldorf. But why? When it comes to patent disputes, companies can choose a court practically anywhere in the world – and they often end up choosing Germany. “Düsseldorf, Mannheim and Munich are top of the popularity list in Europe for settling patent disputes”, says Gisbert Hohagen, Patent Law Attorney at the major law firm Taylor Wessing. There are three reasons for this: The process is relatively quick in Germany, taking on average around 12 to 14 months. It’s affordable – in Great Britain process experts cost three to four times as much as in Germany and in the USA up to ten times as much! German judges are seen to be more experienced and specialized, which makes the process more predictable from the point of view of the claimant.
Furthermore, if you take legal action in a different country, you run a considerable risk. Occasionally judges will declare a patent invalid, meaning nobody benefits from it. “Great Britain is a real patent graveyard”, says one famous patent law attorney. However, in Germany it is not permissible to declare patents invalid in the civil courts during such disputes.
This means that 63 percent of all European patent disputes end up in German patent courts, says Hohagen from Taylor Wessing. Two thirds of his clients are from abroad.
But which attorneys are really worth the money they’re paid? Who has the best reputation amongst their colleagues? An exclusive league table, published in the magazine Wirtschafts-Woche provides the answers to these questions.
890 attorneys are assessed
In the first round of the selection process, the Handelsblatt Research Institute (HRI) identified 269 patent law attorneys and 621 patent attorneys. What’s the difference? The former are lawyers and the latter usually have a scientific or technical background. All those selected took part in a peer group survey and gave each other points. They were not allowed to give themselves points. The jury created the list of recommendations from the lawyers and attorneys with the most points.
The jury itself was made up of corporate lawyers including Franziska Preissinger from Novartis, Stephan Wolke from Thyssen-Krupp Intellectual Property, Stephan Gürtler from the Merck Group and Hermann Kremer from Audi. Achim Schunder, Head of Magazines at the publisher C.H.Beck represented the scientific side. In the end, the league table included 20 patent law attorneys from 15 law firms, and 21 patent attorneys from 18 companies – and yes, Hohagen from Taylor Wessing made it onto the list. He and his colleges are currently looking after clients from two industries in particular: mobile communications and pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, they have recently been meeting more and more patent exploiters in court. These are companies such as Nokia, that don’t manufacture much themselves any more, but hold and licence self-developed patents.
A troll’s business model
Companies who have never manufactured anything, but who hold patents they have bought up are known to insiders as “trolls”. This includes experts from the private equity company IP Com from the Munich suburb of Pullach. In 2007, the company bought up 1000 mobile communications patents from Bosch and sued companies all over the world just to generate patent revenue.
This may be morally questionable, but it is of little importance in court. It also doesn’t matter whether a patent has been infringed on purpose or inadvertently. Specifically in the mobile communications industry, there is a huge portfolio of patents that are very similar, says Christian Harmsen, a lawyer at Bird & Bird in Düsseldorf. Patent judges only check if a product is making use of a patent.
Harmsen recently represented the former global market leader in mobile phones in a much noted dispute: Nokia accused the iPhone manufacturer Apple of infringing 32 patents, including technologies for display, videos and software. Last May, the companies settled the dispute and agreed on licence payments. The legal effort was well worth it for Nokia and Apple has since paid them 1.7 billion USD. These types of disputes can be lucrative for specialists. Salaried lawyers charge up to €250 per hour, partners up to €550 and the top stars earn up to €900 per hour. Patent attorneys charge up to €300 per hour, making them considerably more affordable.