The Patents County Court – an overview

The Patents County Court (PCC) was set up in 1990 in response to concerns that the UK High Court was too costly and complex for some litigants to bring Intellectual Property (IP) cases.  As a result, it was felt that litigants such as SMEs had insufficient access to justice when enforcing IP rights.

Over the years the PCC has gained a stronger foothold and is now seen as an excellent alternative, in appropriate cases, to the High Court.  In particular it is suitable for less complex cases and for relatively low value IP cases. The PCC provides a robust, no-nonsense procedure and this results in more predictable, and generally lower, legal costs. The same types of remedy – e.g. injunctions (interim or final), damages, and account of profits – are available in the PCC as in the High Court.

In 2010, recoverable cost caps were introduced into the PCC. This means that a maximum of £50,000 can now be recovered by a successful party in relation to liability, and a maximum of a further £25,000 can be recovered in relation to an enquiry as to damages or account of profits.

In 2011, a damages cap was introduced into the PCC; this results in a maximum of £500,000 being recoverable in damages.

These caps provide some certainty to parties entering into a PCC action that recoverable costs and potential damages will not become unexpectedly huge in the event of a negative result. Of course, any party can spend as much or as little as they like on an action – these caps only limit the costs that can potentially be recouped by the winning side. Each stage of the procedure is separately capped, and in practice a successful party will usually be able to recover about £30,000 to £40,000 in costs.

Along with the requirement to keep costs low, in a PCC case there is inevitably some offset in the breadth and depth of argument and evidence that will be considered. There may be judge-imposed limits, on a case-by-case basis, for the amount and type of evidence allowed into a particular proceeding.  For example, it might be that there is only a single expert witness allowed per issue.  On “minor” issues it may be that no expert evidence will be allowed. Evidence may also be limited in other ways.

It is therefore clear that not all disputes will be suitable for consideration in this forum. However, the recent success of the PCC in providing efficient, relatively low-cost, well considered judgements indicates that there is a significant category of disputes where this balanced approach is certainly appropriate, promoting both efficiency and parties’ rights to be heard.

Very recently, in October 2012, a specific procedure for very small claims (worth less than £5,000 in total) was introduced, although this is not available in patent or registered design disputes.  Generally, costs will be low and in normal cases parties will be expected to bear their own costs.

The Patents County Court Guide provides a good overview of the PCC system. In addition, your usual contact or Binesh Patel will be able to provide further information in relation to PCC procedure.