Thursday, April 23, 2015

French Court Applies 25% Rule of Thumb, Multiplier to Arrive at 3% Royalty

The case is Vorwerk & Co. Interholding GmbH v. Electrodomesticos Taurus SL, TGI Paris, Sept. 26, 2014, PIBD 1018, 919.  The patent in suit is EP 0757530, titled Robot ménager comportant un bac á agitation et un mécanisme d'entrainement de l'agitateur du bac (a food processor comprising an agitator vessel and a mechanism for operating the agitator).  If I am understanding this correctly, the inventive feature in suit appears to be something called a chapeau de cuisson á la vapeur, which I would translate as "steaming cap."  Plaintiff Vorwerk sued defendant Taurus for selling allegedly infringing food processors.  In earlier proceedings the court held that the patent was infringed, and this judgment was affirmed.  The proceeding at issue was to set the amount of the plaintiff’s damages.

At the time the events at issue occurred, article 615-7 of the IP Code read as follows:
Pour fixer les dommages et intérêts, la juridiction prend en considération les consequences économiques négatives, dont le manque à gagner, subies par la partie lésée, les bénéfices réalisés par le contrefacteur et le préjudice moral cause au titulaire des droits du fait de l’atteinte. Toutefois, la juridiction peut, à titre d’alternative et sur demande de la partie lésée, allouer à titre de dommages et intérêts une somme forfaitaire qui ne peut être inférieure au montant des redevances ou droits qui auraient été dus si le contrefacteur avait demandé l’autorisation d’utiliser le droit auquel il a porté atteinte.
This can be translated as 
For assessing damages and interest, the court takes into account the negative economic consequences, including loss of profit, suffered by the injured party, the profits realized by the infringer and the moral prejudice caused to the rightholder by the infringement. However, the court may, alternatively, upon request by the injured party, award damages as a lump sum that shall not be less than the amount of royalties or fees that would have been due if the infringer had requested authorization for the use of the right infringed.
(Article 615-7 was amended in March 2014, for discussion of which see here.  The amendment is not applicable to this case.) 

Vorwerk itself did not practice the patent but rather licensed some affiliated firms to do so.  Vorwerk asserted as its damages its lost profit (manque á gagner), based on the royalties it would have earned from Taurus and Taurus's distributors if they had concluded a license.  Again if I am understanding correctly, Taurus argued that Vorwerk's failure to work the patent meant that Vorwerk was not entitled to recover any damages, but the court disagreed and concluded that the injury suffered by the patent owner would be, at a minimum, equal to the royalties it would have received but for the infringement.

As for the amount, the court appointed an expert who first determined the infringing turnover (la masse contrefaisante).  The expert determined that this should include (1) sales of a model called Mycook that included the steaming cap, and (2) sales of a model called Mycook Pro that did not include the cap, but for which the cap was separately purchased as an accessory.  Altogether this equaled €4,242,557.  The court accepted the expert's analysis.

Next, to calculate the royalty rate the expert first calculated the infringer’s profit margin as 9.6%. Vorwerk argued that the expert deducted some fixed costs that were not tied to the manufacture of the infringing goods, and that the profit margin was actually 22%, but again the court affirmed the expert’s calculation.  Next, the expert multiplied 9.6% by 25%, a step the court refers to in the opinion as “une clé de repartition couramment admise en matière de license de brevet” (a sharing method commonly used in patent licenses)--basically, what sounds like a "rule of thumb" to me.  Next, the expert cut this figure in half based on his conclusion that the patented invention did not play a key role in the sale of the defendant's products, and then rounded this up to 1.5%.  Finally, the expert suggested that the court could multiply the 1.5% rate by 1, 2, or 3.  Taurus for its part argued that the royalty base should be reduced to the average price of the steaming cap times the number of infringing devices, and that any enhancement would be punitive in nature.  The court disagreed, specifically stating as to the latter issue the following (in my translation):
It is appropriate to apply the principle of enhancing the contractual royalty rate, because doing so takes into account the damaging situation in which the rightholder finds itself, who suffers the exploitation of the invention without any decision on its part.  It would be, in such a case, unjust to apply purely and simply a royalty rate equal to that which the parties would have consented to had they negotiated a license.
(For further discussion of royalty multipliers in France, see my book p.270 & n.187). Multiplying the masse contrefaisante as calculated by the expert (€4,242,557) by 3%, the court therefore awarded €127,367 in lost royalties.

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