Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Issue Estoppel and Foreign Proceedings

Astrazeneca Canada Inc v Apotex Inc 2011 FC 862 Hughes J

Inconsistent results in litigation between the same parties over corresponding patents in different jurisdictions is embarrassing and the duplicative litigation is wasteful. While the results of litigation in a foreign jursidiction are not directly binding on Canadian courts, issue estoppel might in principle be invoked to promote comity and reduce wasteful litigation. While I am not aware of any decision actually applying issue estoppel based on foreign litigation to determine a point in a Canadian action, in Apotex Inc. v Wellcome Foundation Ltd. (1996), 68 C.P.R. (3d) 23 (FCTD) and Connaught Laboratories Ltd v. Medeva Pharma Ltd. (1999), 4 C.P.R. (4th) 508 (F.C.T.D.) Sharlow J. aff'd (2000), 4 C.P.R. (4th) 521 (F.C.A.), the Federal Court has refused to strike pleadings that argued issue estoppel based on foreign actions. However, such pleadings will not automatically be accepted. In Astrazeneca Canada Inc v Apotex Inc 2011 FC 862, Apotex pleaded that because the patentee Astrazeneca had elected not to raise certain claims of the US patent in US litigation, it was thereby precluded from asserting the equivalent claims in the corresponding Canadian patent in the Canadian litigation. (It should be noted that this was in response to Astrazeneca’s pleading that Apotex was bound by certain factual determinations in the US litigation: [6:Category 2.1].) Hughes J ordered these paragraphs struck.

The assertion that the patentee was bound not to assert claims that had not been asserted in a foreign proceeding was novel, but Hughes J’s reasoning was based on broader considerations. The principle underlying issue estoppel, which is a branch of res judicata, is to ensure finality by precluding re-litigation of the same issue. Accordingly, issue estoppel requires inter alia, that it must be the same issue that was decided in the other judicial proceedings: Angle v Minister of National Revenue, [1975] 2 S.C.R. 248 (S.C.C.). In patent law, it may be very difficult to determine whether the same issue was decided. This was pointed out in a decision relied on extensively by Hughes J, Johnson & Johnson Inc. v Boston Scientific Ltd., 2008 FC 552 at [260]-[268], in which Layden-Stevenson J refused to apply issue estoppel to settle a point in an infringement action. Even when the patents are based on the same priority document, the claims at issue may differ, and even if the claims are the same, claim construction is a matter of law to which res judicata cannot apply. Expert witnesses on foreign law would be required to establish whether the issue decided was the same. In short, invoking issue estoppel based on foreign actions is likely to be more trouble than it is worth. Hughes J emphasized at [7] that “litigation is costly and that unnecessary irrelevant or distracting matters should not be put in play simply because there is a possibility of relevance.” In the circumstances in which issue estoppel or res judicata is traditionally applied, it would normally reduce litigation cost by avoiding wastefully duplicative litigation of the same issue; in patent litigation it is more likely to increase litigation cost by requiring determination of whether the same issue had been determined in the foreign litigation. In Connaught, Sharlow J was aware of this problem, and responded by saying that “complexity by itself cannot justify striking pleadings that are worthy of the Court's attention.” In this decision, Hughes J has come down in favour of trying to place some limits on the cost of patent litigation, rather than exploring every issue of potential relevance.

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