The Issue

If intellectual property rights are infringed, the rights holder may – as an alternative to compensation for the damages actually suffered or a reasonable royalty – request the surrender of the infringer’s profits.

The first step is to determine the “net profits” of the infringer. According to case law, variable costs for the manufacture and distribution of the infringing products may be deducted, whereas fixed costs may not. This includes administrative costs, directors’ salaries, plant rents, depreciation of fixed assets, etc, since these costs would have been incurred irrespective of the manufacture and/or distribution of the infringing products (4 Ob 182/13p, Grant’s, ecolex 2014/137).

In the decision 4 Ob 213/18d – LED-LENSER, rendered in 2019, the Austrian Supreme Court (OGH) – as far as can be seen – for the first time dealt with the question if and to which extent the infringer’s profits payable to the right holder are to be further reduced in order to appropriately consider the causal nexus between IP infringement and profits made.

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Under Austrian law, holders of exclusive trademark licenses used to be allowed to take legal action against infringers by virtue of the exclusive license, i.e. even if the license agreement did not expressly confer such right to the licensee [OGH 4 Ob 178/00f, BOSS-Brillen II]. Only the non-exclusive licensee required an express grant of right to bring suit in order to enforce the trademark  [OGH 4 Ob 209/02f, Brühl, ÖBl 2003, 87 (Hiti)].

Since a recent amendment of Section 14 (3) of the Austrian Trademark Protection Act that took place in 2019, each licensee (i.e. also the exclusive licensee) requires the consent of the licensor in order to enforce the licensed trademark against third parties. However, the holder of an exclusive license may bring such proceedings if the proprietor of the trademark, after having been noticed by the licensee, does not himself bring infringement proceedings within an appropriate period.

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