24 November 2016Jurisdiction reportsIşık Özdoğan and Ezgi Baklacı

The role of expert opinions

If solving a dispute requires technical or specialist knowledge and cannot be resolved via the judge’s legal knowledge and professional experience, the Civil Procedural Law empowers judges to appoint an expert or panel of experts. However, a recent court decision has raised questions about the role of expert reports and when judges can legitimately request such reports.

Judges can make the decision on reports either ex officio or at the parties’ request. The expert or expert panel examines the dispute within certain limits defined by the court, then submits a report. Court-appointed experts are considered to be civil servants under the Turkish Criminal Code. However, they are not part of the court which appoints them, nor do they have a voting right regarding the merits of the case.

Although expert reports are for guidance only and are not binding on judges, most first instance court decisions are rendered in line with the expert report. Heavy judicial workloads in recent decades mean courts have begun to appoint expert panels even for legal issues.

The trend also applies to intellectual property actions, with notable circumstances including:

Patents: Judges at IP courts (or in cities where specialist courts are not established, ie, civil courts of first instance which are authorised to handle IP matters) have no scientific or technical background. Therefore, expert opinions carry even more importance in understanding and applying technical aspects of disputed patents.

Trademarks: Even specialist IP courts usually appoint an expert panel to determine the risk of confusion or existence of a trademark’s well-known character. In practice, if a plaintiff bases its arguments on a trademark’s well-known character, the Court of Appeal requires an expert examination.

Problems with multiple experts

In June, the Assembly of Civil Chambers, the highest body of Turkey’s Court of Appeal, ruled on the necessity of an expert report in a dispute about confusion between two trademarks. The plaintiff initiated a cancellation action seeking to overturn the Turkish Patent Institute’s decision to reject the plaintiff’s opposition to the defendant’s trademark application.

The first instance court obtained an expert report from a panel of three experts. The court rejected the plaintiff’s claim, based on this expert report, ruling that there was no likelihood of confusion between the trademarks. The plaintiff appealed against the first instance court’s decision to the Court of Appeal and the case was ultimately sent back to the lower court for a second examination.

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