The most recent reincarnation of the Patents County Court (PCC) is enjoying success. This month, as the PCC celebrates the second anniversary of its restructuring, we reflect on the characteristics that have allowed it to make a name for itself as a fleet-footed contender in a system of heavy-weight Intellectual Property courts.
Although the PCC was created in 1990 as alternative forum to the Patents High Court, it was not until October 2010, under the direction of newly streamlined procedural rules and the guidance of a new judge HHJ Colin Birss QC, that things really began to take off. Nowadays, there is no doubt that the court lives up to its billing as brisk, fair and inexpensive forum for Small and Medium Enterprises to conduct intellectual property disputes.
While most cases at the PCC are heard under the “multi-track” procedure (see below), new rules entering into force this month now also provide for a “small track”. The small track provides informal proceedings for individuals such as designers and photographers to launch actions for copyright, trade mark or unregistered design infringement, and its regulations reflect this: parties can represent themselves, damages are capped at £5000, and the general principle that the losing party pays the costs of the winning party does not apply.
Litigation in the UK has always been about reaching the ‘right’ decision, in other words the most equitable decision based on the facts. However, a full airing of the facts can take time and lead to considerable expense for the parties concerned. One of the great successes of the PCC has been to maintain the principles of witness cross examination and document disclosure but do so within the framework of a vastly streamlined procedure. At the PCC, the judge is a busy man and court hearings are limited to a day or two at most!
Much of the streamlining is brought about by active case management, with a Case Management Conference being available early on to flush out the main issues before the hearing is underway. Where both parties agree, the judge can also be prevailed upon to provide a non-binding preliminary opinions on the likelihood of success of the case, with a view to encouraging settlement.
Costs are also dealt with quickly and fairly. Damages are capped at £500,000, and costs (those paid for by the losing party as part of the award) are limited to £50,000. The £50,000 limit applies regardless of the number of successful claimants or unsuccessful defendants party to the proceedings, discouraging clever arrangements of parties and other legal shenanigans that might seek to extract more.
Despite this streamlining, and the cap on the amount of damages that can be awarded, the PCC is not a cut-price jurisdiction. The complexity of cases heard at the PCC, as well as the remedies and awards available (under the multi-track procedure at least) are the same as those for the High Court (under small track procedure, interim awards, like injunctions, are not available).
Over the past two years, more than 80 cases have been heard at the PCC (according to the BAILII website). A recent highlight for followers came in May 2012, when junior counsel for multinational giants Unilever Plc and S.C. Johnson slugged it out in a patent revocation action. Despite its focus on Small and Medium Enterprises, the PCC clearly has a shot at the crown for a much wider popular appeal.
In on the waterfront, Marlon Brando once famously said “I coulda been a contender”. The PCC need have no such concerns. It already is.
This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking before any action in reliance on it.