Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Three Judges Chatting

Last night's excellent seminar hosted by Sir Hugh Laddie of UCL gave a platform for three judges from three jurisdictions to address their concerns about the patent system. The audience was drawn from all sections of the profession, patent attorneys, barristers and solicitors with a good sprinkling of SOLO members amongst the generally swanky city suits. It was a complacent audience and you sensed that it did not care too much when David Kitchin expressed his concerns that the Patents Courts lists were full but only with cases of those spending millions on settling their disputes.
Judge Rader gave us a masterclass in the double-edged compliment but, to be fair, the insulting flattery game had been started by Sir Hugh Laddie. Apparently the one thing the global IP judges have in common is a school boy camaraderie of cheek. Randy's substantive address was about the US approach to the grant of injunctions, which he attributes to English principles of equity. No doubt it is expedient to prevent abuse of the patent system by those with patents that relate to a relatively unimportant contribution. The US has a problem with trolls, but no compulsory licence provisions so the judiciary has had to invent them. There was a certain amount of discussion of trollism but there were many who benefit from the University IP market so there was little agreement on how to define them. The ownership of trivial patents that are infringed in big established and financially successful products or services like EBay or mobile phones seems to be a key feature.
There was some publicity for the Burdon plan to reduce litigation costs and several times it was stated that the Patents County Court had failed. Costs caused everyone lots of problems much to the amusement of Randy. Our (former) European judge, Jan Brinkhof smiled inscrutably knowing that mega-costs are not such a problem in mainland Europe.
The EPO came in for some criticism with one member of the audience complaining that the EPO opposition and appeal procedures were so cheap and accessible that his rich clients did not enjoy the exclusive use of resources as they did in the English Patents Court. David Kitchin did have some sympathy about the slowness of the EPO and said it was less likley today for UK cases to be stayed pending resolution by the EPO
Sadly we got a good understanding of the problem, but no solutions to the accessibility to patent resolutions for players with fewer resources than Nokia and Merck.
We look forward to more provocative seminars from IBIL. Thank you.

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