Patents County Court update

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The Patents County Court (PCC) is designed as a low-cost forum for the settlement of intellectual property disputes in England and Wales. It continues to prove popular under the widely respected rule of His Honour Judge Birss. As a low-cost regime it is meant for the less complex disputes, with trials generally lasting a maximum of two days and with a £500,000 cap on the damages that can be imposed. The costs recoverable are capped at £50,000, which means that the cost of taking an action is much more predictable than in the High Court.

As part of the Hargreaves review of IP, it was proposed to introduce a small claims track into the PCC. This would be suitable for very low value cases, where the amount in dispute is less than £5,000. It is likely to be particularly useful in the copyright and designs fields, for example where the copyright in a single photo has been infringed. Whilst the introduction and management
of the small claims track is under consultation at present, it is hoped that this will provide a useful forum for many claims which at present cannot be tried economically.

Despite its name the PCC covers all types of intellectual property, and for many matters we are able to act without needing to instruct litigation solicitors. The PCC is proving particularly useful in copyright and design matters, as the subject matter of those disputes is generally relatively simple. The recent case of Temple Island v New English Teas demonstrated that the PCC is not shy
of making controversial decisions; the court held that by deliberately taking a photograph set up to recreate an older image, copyright could still be infringed, despite no mechanical copying of the original photograph occurring.

Our senior partner, John Lawrence, has been involved with a number of cases and is a keen advocate of the PCC. “At Barker Brettell we have embraced the better access to justice provided by the PCC. We were involved with about one third of all patent cases heard in the PCC in 2011 – and without loss.” said John.