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A Judgment May be Vacated due to the Court's Arbitrary Change of the Trial Plan

Hsiu-Ru Chien/Powei Huang

The Intellectual Property Court ("IP Court") has always emphasized procedural efficiency when conducting trials. When many judges begin a court case, in addition to organizing disputed issues, they will set a preliminary trial plan to confirm the order in which each issue is handled as well as schedule the timeline of briefs and hearing(s) with each party, record the same in the transcript, and finally proceed with the investigation and deliberation process according to the trial plan. During the course of the litigation, the court may seek the opinions of the parties and adjust the trial plan as the case progresses. The above steps are presented in the "Procedure of Civil Cases Concerning Intellectual Property for Patent Infringement Cases" (https://ipc.judicial.gov.tw/ipr_english/doc/The%20Procedure%20of%20Civil%20Cases%20Concerning%20Intellectual%20Property%20for%20Patent%20Infringement%20Cases.doc) and "Procedure of Administrative Cases Concerning Intellectual Property for Patent Infringement Cases" (http://ipc.judicial.gov.tw/ipr_internet/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=25:2011-01-28-02-49-57&catid=52:2011-01-04-01-50-21&Itemid=100038; no English version available) published on the IP Court's website since the establishment of the court; both procedures classify the making of "trial plans" as an important step during the litigation process.
However, in current intellectual property laws, the term "trial plan" is only mentioned in Paragraph 2, Article 30 of the Intellectual Property Case Adjudication Rules ("IPCAR"), which states: "Where the competent intellectual property authority is ordered to intervene in a civil action under the preceding paragraph pursuant to Paragraph 1, Article 17 of the Intellectual Property Case Adjudication Act, it is advisable that the opinion of the competent intellectual property authority be sought for designating the date for a court session; and negotiation may be conducted with both parties and the intervening party for the arrangement of a trial plan when necessary." The term "trial plan" is nowhere to be found in the relevant regulations from which the IPCAR is derived. Regarding the implementation of the trial plan and whether arbitrary changes to the plan would cause the judgment to be illegal, there have been few actual cases in the past. The Supreme Court rendered Judgment No. 2019-Tai-Shang-Zi-1238 on March 11, 2020, which indicates that "in order to allow the parties to properly debate the facts and laws with respect to the concerned litigation relationship to protect their procedural rights, the court should not only prevent one party from unexpected means of attack by the other, but also enable the parties to fully anticipate the court's trial plan, so as to avoid any misunderstanding about the proceedings. Otherwise, it would be a violation of the court's obligation of elucidation." Therefore, the Supreme Court has held the original judgment as illegal and has vacated and remanded the case to the Intellectual Property Court for retrial.
In this case, the court of the original instance sought the opinions of both parties (both are companies) before the end of the preparatory sessions. As the plaintiff requested compensation for damages, the presiding judge stated that if the defendant was not found to have infringed on or unlawfully exploited the patent, the court would make a final judgment. Otherwise, an interlocutory judgment would be made and an investigation of damages would begin. However, the court then ended the preparatory sessions immediately and had the parties conduct oral debates. It ruled that the appellant (defendant) misused the patent and infringed on the appellee (plaintiff)'s rights, and thus rendered a final judgment against the appellant. The Supreme Court considers what the court of the original instance did as "not in line with the original trial plan formulated by the presiding judge, causing the appellant to be unable to defend itself with respect to the issue of damages compensation. The litigation procedure of the case is therefore flawed." Hence, the Supreme Court vacated and remanded the original judgment.
From this case, it is clear that although the current intellectual property-related laws do not stipulate the effects of making or violating the trial plan, the Supreme Court stated the trial plan's importance in the above-mentioned judgment. As such, if a court changes a scheduled trial plan without informing the parties in a timely manner and without allowing them to express their opinionsand thus impacts the parties' procedural rights to a hearing or even their substantive rights of defense—it could constitute a violation of the court's obligation of elucidation.