A court opens the door to the Doctrine of Equivalents in Mexico

May 16, 2017 at 4:15 PM Leave a comment

The main way to fight patent infringement is filing an infringement action with the Mexican Patent and Trademark Office (MPTO). The Mexican industrial Property Law provides a list of causes of infringement. The list is supposed to be limitative, and for many years, the prevailing opinion among Mexican practitioners has been that declaring a patent infringement demands the literal infringement of the claims.

On November, 2016, the Weekly Journal of the Federal Judicial Branch published a non-binding decision by one of the panels of the Court of Appeals of the First Circuit, in Mexico City, regarding patent infringement.

Essentially, the court stated that there is patent infringement if the infringer, instead if using the invention according to the literal claims, obtained the same result by equivalent means, without involving an inventive step[1].

This is an important breakthrough in Mexican patent law. In a more general view, this is one of a significant number of relatively recent non-binding precedents from courts of appeals in Mexico City and the Specialized Panel in Intellectual Property of the Federal Court of Administrative Affairs (FCAA) that seek to improve the protection of IP rights in Mexico by means of a more liberal construction of the statutory causes of administrative infringement (punishable by the Mexican Patent and Trademark Office) provided in the Mexican Industrial Property Law.

This tendency of the FCAA and some courts of appeals in Mexico City was somehow announced by a non-binding precedent of 2013. In this precedent, the Eight Court of Appeals in Mexico City stated that the general provision against unfair competition provided by Section 213, paragraph I, of the Industrial Property Law may be considered as a last resource remedy that allows punishing actions that, in spite of harming IP rights, are not literally stated as administrative infringement in the Industrial Property Law.

For example, the Industrial Property Law does not state as a cause of infringement importing goods identified with trademarks identical or confusingly similar to one registered in Mexico to identify the same of similar products to the ones stated in the Mexican trademark registration. In order to cure that void, the FCAA ruled in a non-binding precedent published on August, 2015[2], that such an activity should be punished as unfair competition under the Industrial Property Law and the general provision against unfair competition (Section 213, paragraph I, of the Industrial Property Law[3]).

More recently, on March 2017, the First Court of Appeals in Mexico City published in a non-binding precedent[4] stating that importing a product using a registered industrial design may be punishable as administrative infringement under the general provision against unfair competition (again, Section 213, paragraph I, of the Industrial Property Law), in spite of the fact that importing goods that use registered industrial designs without authorization is not stated as an infringement in the Industrial Property Law.

Although the above-stated precedents are not binding, they are considered authoritative, so I expect that the Mexican Patent and Trademark Office and the FCAA will show a more favorable and flexible approach to infringement cases in the benefit of IP owners in the following months.

However, the liberal construction of the statutory causes of infringement provided in the Industrial Property Law has not been free of criticism. One important objection relates to a binding precedent from the Supreme Court[5] regarding the basic principles applicable to administrative infringements.

The Supreme Court ruled that some principles ruling criminal law are applicable to administrative infringements cases, namely, the principle about the definition of the offense or “tipicidad”: in order to make an action punishable, such action must be exactly stated as an offense in the statute. An action can’t be punishable using analogy or higher reason.

If the MPTO and the courts must construct the statutory causes of administrative infringement as narrowly as criminal offenses, I wonder if the flexible constructions of the general provision against unfair competition stated in paragraph I of Section 213 of the Industrial Property Law would meet the standard set by the Supreme Court.

 

[1] “Patente. La interpretación periférica, por identidad o por equivalencia, constituye un método para definir si un tercero ha invadido en perjuicio de su titular los derechos que derivan de esa exclusividad dentro de un procedimiento de infracción” at Gaceta del Semanario Judicial de la Federación, Tenth Period, Number 36, Volume IV, November 2016, page 2412. Electronic version: https://sjf.scjn.gob.mx/sjfsist/Paginas/DetalleGeneralV2.aspx?Epoca=1e3e10000000000&Apendice=1000000000000&Expresion=interpretaci%25C3%25B3n%2520perif%25C3%25A9rica&Dominio=Rubro&TA_TJ=2&Orden=1&Clase=DetalleTesisBL&NumTE=1&Epp=20&Desde=-100&Hasta=-100&Index=0&InstanciasSeleccionadas=6,1,2,50,7&ID=2013115&Hit=1&IDs=2013115&tipoTesis=&Semanario=0&tabla=&Referencia=&Tema=.

[2] “Infracciones en materia de comercio. El abandono de la mercancía en aduana no exime de que se constituya una conducta infractora originada en la motivación psicológica del dolo al momento de realizar la importación” at R.T.F.J.F.A., Seventh Period, Year V, Number 49, August 2015, page 468.

[3] Section 213.- “It is an administrative infringement: I. Taking any action against the good uses and customs in industry, trade and services that imply unfair competition and related with the subject matter regulated by this Act”.

[4] “Diseño industrial. La importación de un bien protegido por un registro relativo sin consentimiento de su titular, constituye un acto contrario a los buenos usos y costumbres en la industria o comercio”, at Gaceta del Semanario Judicial de la Federación, Tenth Period, Number 40, Volume IV, March 2017, page 2695. Electronic version: https://sjf.scjn.gob.mx/sjfsist/Paginas/DetalleGeneralV2.aspx?Epoca=1e3e10000000000&Apendice=1000000000000&Expresion=IMPORTACI%25C3%2593N%2520DE%2520UN%2520BIEN%2520PROTEGIDO%2520POR%2520UN%2520REGISTRO&Dominio=Rubro&TA_TJ=2&Orden=1&Clase=DetalleTesisBL&NumTE=1&Epp=20&Desde=-100&Hasta=-100&Index=0&InstanciasSeleccionadas=6,1,2,50,7&ID=2013984&Hit=1&IDs=2013984&tipoTesis=&Semanario=0&tabla=&Referencia=&Tema=.

[5] “Tipicidad. El principio relativo, normalmente referido a la materia penal, es aplicable a las infracciones y sanciones administrativas” at Semanario Judicial de la Federación y su Gaceta, Ninth Period, Volume XXIV, August 2006, page 1667. Electronic version: https://sjf.scjn.gob.mx/sjfsist/Paginas/ResultadosV2.aspx?Epoca=1e3e10000000000&Apendice=1000000000000&Expresion=174326&Dominio=Rubro&TATJ=2&Orden=1&Clase=TesisBL&bc=Jurisprudencia.Resultados&TesisPrincipal=TesisPrincipal&InstanciasSeleccionadas=6,1,2,50,7&Hits=20.

Entry filed under: Patent Law, Trademark law. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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