Saturday 23 March 2013

Fast Track UK Trademark Oppositions

My 40 UK Oppositions OUT
The UK IPO are running a fast consultation on revising (again) the UK trademark opposition procedure.

I did a little survey of my files. If you can't measure it in UK IP policy, it doesn't exist so we must provide evidence even if its only a measured anecdotal sample. So this is what I can say about UK oppositions over the last several years. I have dealt roughly with twice as many outgoing ones as incoming ones 40:19 and the number I have let go to a decision by the UK IPO is tiny at 5 and only one of those went to an appeal. In OHIM the ratio was 65:49

The parties involved are not all SMEs by any means but a reasonable proportion are and whatever the size of the client it generally makes sense in the UK to settle because going the whole way is costly, slow and not that much fun.
My 19 UK Oppositions IN

How does your experience compare?

This doesn't tell us much about the trademark owners who didn't do anything so its always good to review.

Some Registry ideas are
  • Lower fee
  • Proof of Use with TM7
  • Relative Grounds only
  • TM8 retained
  • Separate arguments stage in writing
  • No hearing
  • An Appeal Fee to keep appeals down
OHIM can be made to produce fast cheap decisions using a file it and leave it approach using only CTM grounds. My strategy as an applicant is one observation only and you can even forego that with a reasonable prospect of success in some cases.

There is one little diamond lurking in this consultation that I hope will survive and that's the Appeal Fee. £800 would be about right. 

My first reaction is that the fast track opposition won't work and just makes life more complicated, but is it worth getting together to have a discussion about it?

Sunday 10 March 2013

Are Injunctions Obligatory in UK Patent Infringement Actions?

The title of this post was one of the many questions posed to those of us who spent our Saturday morning in a Cambridge basement a the CIPIL conference entitled 'What's new in IP Remedies' chaired by Mr Justice Richard Arnold. There were many papers but this is the point I wish to do my homework on. Despite belonging to TRIPS the US has lived happily for six years since the patent world was surprised by the eBay MercExchange decision which destroyed the presumption that a patent holder is entitled to an injunction as of right following a successful finding of infringement. Instead, as explained in the presentation by Prof Tomas Gomez-Arostegui of Lewis and Clark School of Law in Portland Oregon, there is no longer a presumption of irreparable harm and the inadequacy of legal (as opposed to equitable) remedies. The balance of hardships and public interest now have to be considered. The prospective pecuniary relief which is provided instead looks hazardously like a compulsory license as our Chairman noted.

Prof Posner and his cat
We also received a very thoughtful and enjoyable people from Prof Paul Heald of the University of Illinois in which he expounded a theory that an injunction was a form of punitive damages. He also offered us the interesting insight that the addition of a cat will send the right sort of message to make even the most austere professor palatable. He set out his thesis in understandable economic terms and made his own theory very palatable without any need for feline assistance. If you are a "patent assertion entity" (the new style for an NPE if you think troll is pejorative) it is easy to understand that the grant of an injunction allows a higher price to be coerced (he did use that word honest) from a defendant who is subject to high switching costs. The difficulty arises with the patentee who is not prepared to licence and would rather put his competitor out of business. Society may find this acceptable if he is a counterfeiter, but what if he is also an innovator.

The question of whether final injunctive relief is a guaranteed remedy was addressed but not answered in the presentation by Joel Smith and Christopher Sharp of Herbert Smith Freehills. Presumably they wish to continue arguing both ways depending on the client.

So what do we need to look at in the UK if we want to follow the US route. The consensus seems to be that you start with Lord Cairn's Act and the Shelfer exception, progress to a detailed study of Article 3 and 12 of the Enforcement Directive (2004/48/EC) which was implemented in the UK by a Statutory Instrument that doesn't think it changed the law but might have. Then  ensure your argument can be reconciled with TRIPS which says that  The judicial authorities shall have the authority to order a party to desist from an infringement.

The Enforcement Directive offers the best opportunities:  Article 3(2) is the general obligation that provides Those measures, procedures and remedies shall also be effective, proportionate and dissuasive and shall be applied in such a manner as to avoid the creation of barriers to legitimate trade and to provide for safeguards against their abuse. Article 12 allows Member States to provide alternative measures if the defendant acted unintentionally and without negligence, [and/or?] if execution of the measures in question would cause him/her disproportionate harm and if pecuniary compensation to the injured party appears reasonably satisfactory.

If there is to be any following of EBay here, then you need a case where a final injunction is going to be DISPROPORTIONATE and an "innocent" infringer. Our existing compulsory licensing provision preclude a final injunction and must already fall within Article 12, but can other suitable cases that may not fit into those strait jackets? It seems to me that they can. In the discussion later on reference was made to property cases where damages had been awarded in lieu of an injunction notably the Wrotham Park Estate Company Limited v Parkside Homes Limited (1974) case.