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13 March 2017
On February 6 2017 the Federal Court of Appeal affirmed a decision (Docket A-43-16) of the Federal Court concerning a costs award from the liability phase of a patent infringement action between the Dow Chemical Company and NOVA Chemicals Corporation, 2016 FC 91. The trial judge had awarded Dow a lump-sum payment of C$6.5 million for its costs consisting of C$2.9 million for legal fees and C$3.6 million for disbursements. The costs award appears to be the largest reported award that the Federal Court has ever granted in an action for patent infringement.
During the liability phase of this proceeding, the Federal Court upheld the validity of Dow's Canadian Patent 2,160,705 and found that Nova's SURPASS polymers infringed the patent (for further details please see "Dow prevails over Nova in polymer patent suit"). The polymers are used in packaging applications including heavy-duty bags, pallet wrapping and food packaging. On September 6 2016 the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the Federal Court decision on the merits (2016 FCA 216).
Dow's costs award follows a recent Federal Court trend of granting, in appropriate cases, costs on a lump-sum basis and where appropriate in excess of those that might be typically calculated under the tariff of the Federal Courts Rules. The trend of granting costs in excess of the tariff is based on the view that the present tariff system may not adequately compensate successful litigants for the costs of successfully prosecuting or defending IP actions in the Federal Court in some circumstances. This approach also mirrors that of some provincial court systems where costs awards have better reflected the actual costs of litigation.
Pursuant to Rule 400 of the Federal Courts Rules, a successful litigant in the Federal Court (whether plaintiff or defendant) is typically entitled to an order for payment of its legal costs. Such an award usually has two components:
The Federal Court has noted in the past that, as a general rule, a costs award represents a compromise between compensating a successful party and not unduly burdening an unsuccessful party.
The fee component of a costs award is typically calculated under a tariff in the Federal Courts Rules and often represents only a modest percentage of actual fees paid to legal counsel. The tariff consists of five columns arranged in ascending order. Each column sets out a range of costs available for certain itemised activities associated with conducting legal proceedings. The default award under the Federal Courts Rules for a successful litigant is the middle of Column III. However, the Federal Court has full discretion over costs awards and may exercise that discretion to apply a different column, or to award an amount that is not based on the tariff.
The Federal Court's approach to costs awards has evolved over the past several years. A number of recent decisions reflect the view that costs awards should more closely reflect the actual costs incurred by successful litigants. In particular, the Federal Court has noted that in the context of patent infringement actions or applications made pursuant to the Patented Medicines (Notice of Compliance) Regulations, where both parties are typically sophisticated corporations, it is more appropriate to award costs in accordance with either Column IV or V than the default Column III.
There has also been an increasing trend for the court, in some cases, to depart from the tariff entirely, instead awarding costs based on a percentage of the actual counsel fees billed to the successful litigant. Examples include the following:
In making the costs award in Dow v Nova, the trial judge noted the trend in the Federal Court of awarding higher costs for fees than those typically available under the tariff. In particular, the judge noted that if the costs award was assessed under Column V of the tariff (still higher than the default Column III), then the costs award to Dow would be "totally inadequate" given the circumstances of the case. As such, the judge awarded C$2.9 million in costs for counsel fees, which represented about 30% of the actual fees incurred. In so finding, he noted that the case and technology involved were complex; there were over 180 days of testing conducted in advance of trial, the trial lasted 32 days and the closing written submissions were 700 pages in length. Dow was also awarded C$3.6 million in costs for reasonable and necessary disbursements, bringing the total costs award to C$6.5 million. The disbursements included C$1.6 million for certain Dow in-house testing costs.
In affirming the trial judge's decision on the costs award, the Federal Court of Appeal noted that granting lump-sum awards (as opposed to engaging in a detailed cost assessment) is expressly provided for in the Federal Courts Rules, and such lump-sum awards have found increasing favour with the courts as they save the parties time and money that would otherwise be associated with a cost assessment proceeding.
Additionally, the court appreciated that in some cases the costs permitted pursuant to the tariff ‒ including the high end of Column V ‒ will be inadequate to achieve the objective of a costs award "making a reasonable contribution to the costs of litigation", such that an award based on a percentage of actual fees billed may be more appropriate. The court noted that, based on a review of the case law, such lump-sum awards tend to range between 25% and 50% of actual fees billed, although there may be cases where a higher or lower amount is warranted.
The court also observed that, as a matter of good practice, requests for lump-sum awards should generally be accompanied by a bill of costs and an affidavit in respect of any disbursements that are outside the solicitor's knowledge. In this case, the C$1.6 million disbursement in respect of Dow's in-house costs for conducting certain tests was not supported by an affidavit. However, the court observed that there were "unique circumstances" in this case, including an earlier contested motion before the trial judge that was focused on the Dow in-house testing and a cost estimate from an independent third party.
For further information on this topic please contact Steven Garland, Jeremy Want, Colin Ingram or Kevin Graham at Smart & Biggar/Fetherstonhaugh by telephone (+1 613 232 2486) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). The Smart & Biggar/Fetherstonhaugh website can be accessed at www.smart-biggar.ca.
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