Tuesday 18 September 2012

Patent Disputes in Proportion

The UK IPO is currently pondering how to expand its Opinion Service after the recent closure of the latest consultation.

I also note from the IPkat's recent post that the Patents County Court is still in full-blown self-congratulatory mode as it prepares to launch its small claims track (Legislation here Rule 10 ) so maybe its time to raise some issues.

There is no doubt that the new regime has made it practical and possible to resolve disputes using the court system. However, to deliver the real cost savings in litigation that make the costs proportionate to the dispute, it is necessary to conduct this type of litigation in a new way. The way I have chosen is to do it single-handed - eliminating the costs of communication between members of the team. Indeed, many litigants in the Patents County Court are representing themselves. These are the difficulties we all face:
  • Communication with the court is a real problem. Phones don't get answered and emails bounce unless the court wants something but not if you do. In-person enquiries tend to be unproductive as well. You are on your own. The best a litigant a person can do is try the Citizens Advice and its current location in the Family Division tends to suggest its focus but they might help you fill an acknowledgement form and there is no-one in the Rolls Building who could even do that for a defendant determined to represent himself this month.
  • The court filing system. It would be nice if there were one. I have never printed so much paper. It seems a waste that it serves no purpose.
  • Application procedures don't quite work in the way described in the Patents County Court guide, where the court itself is supposed to decide whether a hearing is necessary. If you can't agree a date or even availability with the other side, it's a dead end or a long wait.
  •  Time lines are long. The period for a defence was deliberately set long because the idea was as that there should be full pleadings (not just long ones). However, in patent cases where there has been protracted pre-action correspondence another 10 weeks can be a bit of a bitch to say nothing of the wait for a trial date. I was so vexed by the boast that a case could be decided in a day I tracked down the patent on Ipsum where you can find some of the pleadings relating to Invalidity in an infringement case CC11P03258  that actually started in September 2011 so a judgement in a year is nice but not seriously different from the timescale in Big Brother Patents Court. It also seems that these timescales are lengthening.  Let's hope that the fast-track does not put those who are looking to settle patent and trademark disputes into the long grass of several years.  It is inevitable that costs get greater if files are put down and forgotten rather than got on with, to say nothing of the impact on SME business that does not know if it is racking up a damages claim or not.
We might solve some of these issues with a bit of help and collaboration from the IPO. The trademark litigation section cope pretty well with a large number of files and you can contact it by phone and email. Although it doesn't have the ability to post its files to the Internet as the patent side does, hopefully that is coming. Let's see all the Patents County Court documents on line so that we can all know what's going on including the Judge.

Despite this I have managed to achieve quite a lot, but it does help being next door.


  1. Interesting. It makes me wonder whether someone needs to take a long hard look at the overall process - not from the perspective of cutting down a High Court procedure, but by analogy with other dispute resolution processes, eg domain name disputes, Money Online, etc. And revisit the whole document filing and hearing booking process to see if it has kept up-to-date with advances in technology. If we were starting with a blank sheet of paper, what would it look like? I suspect there is a huge amount of inertia in the system, with processes designed to fit how civil service administrators are used to working. Perhaps we can cut them out altogether with modern technology and do it all on an automated basis.

  2. The costs have been decided in that *decided in a day* case and are here