|The Walke Talkie from somewhere else|
The event was favoured by the attendance of at least two of the District Judges who "man" the small claims track of IPEC. The guide for that court gives lots of information and most of the profession are clear that it works pretty well for photographers who find that their work has been misappropriated. In those cases we know (I think) that damages around the £400 - £500 mark are likely to be awarded. I was not alone in commenting that the lack of any published judgements or even less formal information on how trade mark matters were dealt with gave rise to some difficulties in advising clients whether to choose, transfer or remain there. While many judgments are ex tempore and don't lend themselves to reporting, there are some reserved judgments that have not made it into the public gaze because a policy decision has been made that they should not be published on BAILII. This is unfortunate because it keeps us in the dark.
One of my concerns is that with a £10,000 limit on damages and with no intention of conducting the same type of inquiry that is conducted in the multi-track or High Court, it might be easy to assume that damages reach that limit and order it automatically. Nice for claimants, but less than satisfactory for impecunious defendants, for whom that sum may be unattainable.
It seems that many judgements in the small claims track are by default, which in itself is unsatisfactory and suggests that defendants are not finding access to affordable advice. Even if you have infringed intellectual property, it is still worthwhile admitting or defending and attending to ensure that your case is dealt with fairly. So far ITMA has not been successful in setting up a pro bono scheme and intellectual property defendants are not finding much assistance elsewhere. Often the difficulty is that it's not a case of not being able to afford legal advice, it's not being able to find legal advice that is affordable.
It was great to meet the small claims track judges and hear a little about how they operate. This in itself gives me much more confidence than I had before. With the multi-track so busy, it is good to know that there is capacity on the small claims track for things to come on early. They even promise to read their emails, even if due to the universal lack of support staff that seems to handicap our increasingly expensive court system, its less likely that the phones will be answered. Some difficulties seem to arise when claims are issued, which is in the Rolls Building, as it is necessary to get a small claims track number for the case to go straight to their administration.
Hopefully some small claims track trademark decisions might find the light of day somewhere. These are public documents. It seems odd that we should have to consider freedom of information requests in order to find out how justice is delivered. This information should be readily available to those who need recourse to intellectual property justice. Maybe this is something that the IPO can help us with. After all, every trade mark opposition decision is published, even though they are also non-precedental.