Quebec Court Invalidates Jurisdiction Clause in Ebay TOS

Two Quebec students with what is probably the most badass names recently won a small victory in Quebec Courts.

In Mofo Moko c. Ebay Canada Ltd. (French, but worth reading in its entirety), Plaintiffs are suing Ebay for loss of profit, or loss of opportunity, after Ebay’s untimely cancellation of their auction, which was nearing $50,000.

Plaintiffs filed their lawsuit in Montreal, which was promptly opposed by Ebay on the grounds that their user agreement specifies any litigation must be carried out in California.

The Court, however, points out that the User Agreement is 6 and a half pages when printed, written in a hardly understandable language.

The Agreement specifies that the law applicable to the contract is the law of Ontario and applicable Federal laws, meaning any lawsuit will have to be not only in California, but based on Canadian and Ontarian laws.

The Court concluded that the intention behind such a condition was to discourage lawsuits, and is excessive, unreasonable, and abusive, and, when found in a “contrat d’adhésion”, is null and void.

The present ruling only concerns Ebay’s Motion to Dismiss, which they lost. It will be interesting to see if the main suit ever gets carried to term.

Small Claims Sunday #4

Lots of new decisions this week, but not a lot of interesting ones, so I’ve only picked 4.

Legault c. Opris (insurance, car repairs)
Plaintiff is suing for damages from the repairs (or lack thereof) to his vehicle, and cost of car rental during the time of the repairs. Plaintiff brought the vehicle to Defendant’s garage for repairs after an accident. Plaintiff’s insurance company sent an agent to the garage to assess damages, after which the agent issued a check to Defendant to cover repair costs. The car was only given back to Plaintiff over a month later, with some repairs omitted. Defendant claims the insurance company signed off on the repairs, so Plaintiff should complain to his insurer.
Result: The judge rejected the damages regarding rental of a car during the repairs. The document used to prove the costs has been drafted by a friend of Plaintiff. However, testimony showed the car had been lent to Plaintiff in exchange of services rendered. Moreover, the receipt said taxes were included, thought the friend had no authorisation to levy taxes. The Court concluded the deal was against tax laws, and Courts will not honour such agreements.
As for the damages regarding repairs, Plantiff should have sued his insurer, as it was the insurance company who had the obligation to return the car in the state it was before the accident.

Arama c. Azoulay (copyright violation)
Plaintiff is asking for $5000 over damages after Defendant used a photo taken by Plaintiff, without compensation or attribution. Plaintiff had posted a low-resolution version of the photo to a website. Defendant used the photo on the cover of his book. Plaintiff attended the book’s launching and confronted Defendant. He claims having found the image on a website, with no source or attribution. He claims having used the image in good faith. He also demands $999 from Plaintiff for spoiling his book launch.
Result: The usage of the image infringes on Plaintiff’s copyright, and causes her prejudice as she is a professional photographer. The Court grants Plaintiff $2000 in damages.
On the other hand, The Court rejected the $999 counter-suit since Plaintiff’s behaviour was caused by Defendant’s infringement.
Note: the court didn’t consider being rude as illegal or, at least in this case, as warranting damages. We also note that the Court does sometimes “arbitrarily” set damages. In this case, we can’t tell if Plaintiff testified on the cost of a license for her pictures. One could imagine the defendant could have reduced his damages if he could prove Plaintiff usually licences her images at a lower rate.

Dumont c. Dépanneur Yun Wang (damages to car due to gas quality)
Plaintiff is asking for $1 240,73 over damages to his car caused by the poor quality of gas bought at Defendant’s gas station. Plaintiff filled up his car at defendant’s gas station, then notices his motor emitting smoke later that day. He decides to bring his car to the garage the next week, but the car does not even start. However, after replacing the diesel by new fuel, the car starts normally, and Plaintiff has not had a problem since.
Result: Claim is rejected. Plaintiff never formally notified Defendants as required by law (CCQ 1595, 1738). Moreover, Plaintiff has not proven that the gas was tainted or unfit for use (nobody kept a sample for analysis), and defendant never got any complaint from anyone else.

St-Pierre c. Bell Mobilité cellulaire inc. (damages from change in cell phone plan)
Plaintiff is suing Bell for $4950 worth of damages after Defendant made changes to Plaintiff’s cell phone plan. Plaintiff was a long term customer of Defendant’s. In 2010, Defendant offered Plaintiff a new cell phone should he sign up for a 3-year contract. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff saw some of his services cut, and his voicemail erased. Defendant also charged him for more service fees. Being a consultant, Plaintiff claims the changes affected his business.
Result: The Court awarded Plaintiff $2000 for partial damages. Plaintiff claimed expenses to produce new supplies with a different phone number, but had no invoice to prove them. However, since Defendant was at fault for not disclosing the changes in their service plans, and Plaintiff did suffer damages, the Court decided on the amount of $2000.

SCC invalidates Viagra patent, reiterates basic patent principle

The Supreme Court of Canada has just released a decision today in which it voids Pfizer’s patent for viagra.

The SCC restated the basic principle of the patent system:

The patent system is based on a “bargain”, or quid pro quo: the inventor is granted exclusive rights in a new and useful invention for a limited period in exchange for disclosure of the invention so that society can benefit from this knowledge. This is the basic policy rationale underlying the Act. […]

The issues in this case must be considered in light of the quid pro quo: Is the public getting what it ought to be getting in exchange for exclusive monopoly rights?

The Court ruled that Pfizer did not meet the disclosure requirement. The Viagra patent lists different classes of compounds, and the wording of the patent did not specify which compound was useful to treat erectile dysfunction.

Although Patent ’446 includes the statement that “one of the especially preferred compounds induces penile erection in impotent males” (A.R., vol. X, at p. 173), the specification does not indicate that sildenafil is the effective compound, that Claim 7 contains the compound that works, or that the remaining compounds in the patent had been found not to be effective in treating ED. The claims were structured as “cascading claims”, with Claim 1 involving over 260 quintillion compounds, Claims 2 to 5 concerning progressively smaller groups of compounds, and Claims 6 and 7 each relating to an individual compound.

Pfizer defended itself by claiming that anybody just had to test the 2 final compounds and they’d figure it out. The SCC didn’t buy that and voided the patent.

[…]the public’s right to proper disclosure was denied in this case, since the claims ended with two individually claimed compounds, thereby obscuring the true invention. The disclosure failed to state in clear terms what the invention was. Pfizer gained a benefit from the Act — exclusive monopoly rights — while withholding disclosure in spite of its disclosure obligations under the Act. As a matter of policy and sound statutory interpretation, patentees cannot be allowed to “game” the system in this way. This, in my view, is the key issue in this appeal. It must be resolved against Pfizer.

The Viagra patent is set to expire in 2014, so the generic producers get at about a 2-year head start in the market.