John Alty Formal photo_220_portraitOn 1 October 2013, the specialist Intellectual Property Court for England and Wales, the Patents County Court, was renamed the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (IPEC) and given a new home, as a specialist listing within the Chancery Division of the High Court. Here John Alty, Chief Executive and Comptroller General of the Intellectual Property Office, outlines the implications of these changes for the bioindustry sector. 

The Court, which was originally introduced in 1990 as a court for lower value patent disputes, has undergone a dramatic transformation since 2010 and following a series of striking reforms is now a distinct forum for those businesses that are forced to take legal action to protect their patent, offering a lower cost, speedier option than the High Court.

The most important changes, for patent holders, are likely to be the introduction of a scale of recoverable costs capped at £50,000, a time limit of trial hearings of 1-2 days, and proactive case management.

The time limit on trials is significant as it not only means swifter judgements, but more importantly focuses the parties’ minds on examining the key evidence, reducing unnecessary testimony and document discovery. Before any hearing, at the case management conference, the judge himself is now able to state what evidence he would like to see at the trial, and what isn’t necessary. This process can dramatically reduce the cost of a trial, as well as its length, limiting the amount of legal work need to be carried out prior to and during the hearing.

This process has worked well in recent years, for example, in one case last summer the court was able to give a judgement in a patent trial in one day, and, as the Liversidge vs Owen Mumford Ltd case last year proved, the court is still capable of handling the complexity of a case from the bioindustry sector.

The court’s scale of recoverable costs allows businesses to prepare financially for the potential cost of legal action, providing them certainty on how much they could have to pay if they lose the case. This is particularly important for smaller businesses, who can be dissuaded from protecting their patent in the courts by the prospect of potentially paying for the other side’s expensive legal team. Alongside the cap on costs the court also carries a cap on damages of £500,000.

There will always be some patent cases that remain too complicated for these simplified processes and the Patents High Court remains an important venue for a lot of patent cases. However, the existence of a proven, viable low cost alternative for many of the bioindustry’s disputes is something that the IPO is keen to promote.

If you would like to know more about IPEC, there is comprehensive user guidance (along with contact details) on the Intellectual Property Office and the Ministry of Justice websites.