Sunday, 30 September 2012

Explaining patent litigation 2: All change for smaller businesses - the PCC

Last week PatLit introduced the first in a series of six reader-friendly posts on patent litigation in England and Wales by Liz Cohen (partner, Bristows LLP). This week Liz talks about the aims and objectives of the Patents County Court:
All change for smaller businesses: The PCC

It is well known that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are important for innovation and job creation. It was acknowledged in the Review of Civil Litigation Costs by Lord Justice Jackson, published in January 2010, and more recently, in the Hargreaves Review of Intellectual Property and Growth, published in May 2011, that more needs to be done to assist SMEs with their intellectual property rights in the UK. A number of measures and reforms have since been introduced to achieve this purpose. These include reforming the Patents County Court (PCC) and introducing various tax reliefs. In addition, the IPO is currently consulting on proposals to expand the subject matter of its opinion service and to increase its ability to file revocation actions in relation to patents which it opines are invalid.

In a series of blogs, these three reforming measures will be examined in more detail. The first blog in this series of three looks at the reforms for the PCC.

After widespread reform in late 2010, the PCC is increasingly becoming a court of choice in IP matters, particularly for SMEs. Previously, many SMEs and private individuals were priced out of enforcing or defending their IP rights. The PCC is now suited to handling smaller, less complex, lower value actions, and its procedural rules are targeted to cases of that kind. The result? Shorter, cheaper, quicker litigation better suited to SMEs and private individuals looking to protect and assert their IP rights.

Key features of the PCC are as follows: proactive and flexible case management; concise but complete statements of case (pleadings); early case management conferences; no standard disclosure; no exchange of evidence, experiments, surveys or skeleton arguments as standard; and trials that last a maximum of two days without cross-examination of experts. Of additional benefit to SMEs is the costs cap of up to a maximum of £50,000 and damages cap of £500,000. This limited liability for costs and damages is an important consideration in determining whether to take or defend any action in the PCC.

Despite the name, the PCC has jurisdiction to hear all IP matters. Currently, all IP claims are allocated to the multi-track and the remedies available to the parties are the same as in the High Court of England & Wales. These include preliminary and final injunctions (interdicts), search and seizure and asset freezing orders, capped damages, accounts of profits and delivery up.

From 1 October 2012, there will be a new small claims track for copyright, trade mark, unregistered design and database rights cases in the PCC (patents and registered design cases are excluded). The small claims track will generally apply where the value of the claim is not more than £5,000, the particulars of claim state that the claimant wishes the claim to be allocated to the small claims track and no objection is raised by the defendant in the defence. Interim remedies under CPR part 25 will not be available. This measure should hopefully provide yet further assistance to SMEs and private individuals looking to protect their rights quickly and in a low cost forum.
Next week: All change for smaller businesses - tax benefits.

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