An ongoing legal dispute between Cousins Material House and Swatch Group has been examined by a judge in a Swiss court house in Berne.
The dispute, which dates back almost two years, concerns a parts embargo issued by Swatch Group that prevents Cousins distributing its parts to independent watch repair shops in the UK.
Cousins made clear its intention to fight the embargo by issuing a Letter Before Action notice to the Swiss giant.
This led to Swatch Group lawyers countering by filing a Negative Declaratory Action (NDA) against Cousins with Swiss courts.
An NDA is designed to flush out the details of a legal action. In this case Swatch was attempting to get full access to the lawsuit Cousins appeared intent on pursuing against the watch group.
In a statement issued this morning, Anthony Cousins, managing director of Cousins Material House Ltd., explains that the combination of his company’s Letter Before Action and the Negative Declaratory Action from Swatch Group, has prompted a judge in Swiss court to examine the issue. This is, according to Mr Cousins, a welcome development in the protracted dispute.
“I am pleased to be able to give you a positive update on the progress of the court case in Switzerland regarding the open supply of spare parts for repairers,” he said in a statement issued to WatchPro.
He then goes on to explain the technicalities of the dispute and his view on progress, in particular detailing why Swatch Group appeared to be taking Cousins to court.
“When we released the news two months ago that Swatch had brought an action against us, many people contacted me directly, or asked questions on various on-line forums as to how Cousins could be the defendant and Swatch be claiming against us, when clearly the supply chain was the other way around, and Cousins was claiming to be the injured party because Swatch was refusing to supply us.
“The answer and the update both come from an explanation of the type of action that Swatch has used. This is known as a “Negative Declaratory Action” or NDA.
“At heart an NDA has one principle purpose, and that is to allow an organisation that finds itself accused of wrongdoing by another, to have a mechanism available where it can force the issue into a court, and have the matter resolved,” Mr Cousins explains.
At the end of August, Cousins’ Swiss lawyers submitted the first stage of their defence to the court in Berne. In it, they argued that there are a number of reasons why this NDA is not a valid action, and requested that the judge dismiss the whole case.
“The Swiss judge, having looked at the arguments raised by our lawyers, has agreed that this and other issues need to be examined first, so we are now entering the next stage in which these points of law will be examined before he makes a decision,” Mr Cousins continues.
Swatch Group’s success in getting its NDA examined by the Swiss court appears to have had the unintended consequence of bringing a full hearing of the Cousins demand for the parts embargo to be lifted one step closer. If the court in Berne will not hear that case, then Cousins intends to take Swatch to court in the UK.
Mr Cousins says it is likely to be a few months before the Swiss court reaches any conclusions, and there are unlikely to be any updates ahead of that verdict. “However please do not take silence on our part as a negative, but be assured that we have assembled an excellent case, and are fighting harder than ever for the future of the independent repair trade,” he concludes.
Swatch Group has acknowledged that WatchPro has given it an opportunity to comment.