What led you to pursue a career in patent law?
I grew up in a scientific environment and technology has fascinated me since my early childhood. One of the first photographs taken of me shows me as a one-and-a-half-year old boy with a screwdriver in my hand, dissecting a transistor radio and evaluating the elastic limits of its antenna.
Later, when I was initially unable to decide between jurisprudence and mechanical engineering, this early influence was the decisive factor in my decision to study mechanical engineering. Although I was interested in the subject, I soon felt that I lacked a direct connection to the problems and questions of real life. After my basic studies at ETH Zurich, I switched to jurisprudence. With patent law – and, in particular, patent litigation – I found my ideal field. I no longer dissect radios but rather opponents’ arguments and every case unlocks the doors to the fascinating universe of technological advances.
What are the main elements of the work you do currently in terms of types of case and client?
As far as the technical areas are concerned, life sciences (especially pharmaceuticals and medical devices) has always accounted for about half of my cases over the years. Other areas in which I typically have cases pending on a permanent basis include mechanical engineering and food and beverages. In recent years, my portfolio has been supplemented by patent litigation in chemistry, micromechanics, chips, telecoms and building materials.
Many of my clients have a large and international footprint. However, my team’s extensive experience also allows us to efficiently advise and represent smaller to small companies in matters with low values in dispute.
How are client demands changing, and what impact has that had on the way you manage your practice?
In my experience, client demands have remained largely unchanged in recent years: clients expect honest, efficient advice at the highest level. What has changed dramatically is the administrative workload associated with fulfilling the mandate, but that is another story!
What is the key skill set that top-class patent litigators in Switzerland need to possess?
Success depends on personal and institutional factors. Excellent legal knowledge is a prerequisite, but of course not sufficient. A top-class patent litigator takes pleasure in constantly familiarising themselves with new technical areas and does not stop until they can clearly explain the decisive facts to a layperson. In addition, a top-class patent litigator is:
- involved in the training and further education of the next generation; and
- academically at the forefront and a close follower of developments abroad.
This allows a top-class patent litigator to think outside the box and evaluate creative solutions that cannot be found in a textbook. All this together is the foundation for the credibility that distinguishes a top-class patent litigator.
From an institutional point of view, success depends on seamless collaboration between patent attorneys and cross-border capabilities, which require firms to invest in establishing and maintaining contacts and relationships with leading foreign patent teams.
How would you characterise the current patent environment in Switzerland?
As regards patent litigation, the patent environment significantly improved when a specialised first-instance patent court – the Swiss Federal Patent Court – was incorporated a few years ago. The deciding panels always include both legally and technically trained judges with great experience in patent matters.
From a legislative point of view, it can be stated that the need to further strengthen or even extend patent protection does not seem to be very pronounced. On the whole, stakeholders seem to be satisfied with the current situation and the legislature is tied up with more pressing issues.
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Andri Hess is a partner and a member of Homburger’s IP and IT, litigation and arbitration and competition and regulatory practice teams. He has extensive experience representing clients in patent, other IP rights-related and technology-focused litigation and arbitration in a broad range of technical fields. Mr Hess is also experienced in representing clients in regulatory matters before governmental authorities.
Click here to see his IAM Patent 1000 2019 profile.