The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) launched two new patents databases on 17 January 2009: Patents Endorsed Licence of Right (LOR) and Patents Not in Force (NIF). LOR is designed to flag up UK patents that are still in force and are open for licensing; NIF features all UK patents no longer in force and therefore available to all to use and improve upon. According to the IPO “both the new databases will help businesses identify opportunities they might otherwise not have found”. Currently there are around 8,000 patents that are open for licensing and around 711,000 patents that are no longer in force and therefore available for exploitation.
The databases are based on the e-Patents Journal available on the IPO website and according to the announcement, the databases are to be updated weekly. Each database provides a searchable sub-set of data taken directly from the UK Patents Register and also provides links back to the Register and to esp@cenet in order to pull off all the necessary information pertaining to any particular patent, including a copy of the patent specification describing the invention.
The introduction of the databases was a recommendation by the Gowers review of intellectual property issued two years ago. In today’s economy anything that could be of benefit to businesses and technology development in general is to be welcomed. However, as this information has already been available in one form or another for quite some time, it is questionable whether having it in one-stop-shop table form will be of substantial value.
Companies Name Tribunal
The Companies Name Tribunal has upheld the first objection to the registration of a company name brought under the new Section 69 procedures of the Companies Act 2006. Coca-Cola Company Limited filed formal objections under Section 69 to the registration of the company name “Coke Cola Limited”.
Section 69, which came into force on 1 October 2008, permits a brand owner to file a complaint against a company name that appears to have been registered in order to take advantage of the goodwill or repute of a brand owner’s brand or trade mark, or if it is sufficiently similar to a brand owner’s name that its use in the United Kingdom is likely to mislead the public by suggesting a connection between the registered company and the brand owner. If an objection is raised by the brand owner against a registered company name, the respondent can still maintain the company name as registered if it can prove satisfactorily to the adjudicator that: the company name predates the brand owner’s activities; or that the company that is operating, or will be operating under, the name has incurred substantial start-up costs; or that the company formerly operated under the name but is now dormant; or the name was registered in the ordinary course of company formation business and is available for sale to the brand owner on the standard terms of the business; or the name was adopted in good faith; or the brand owner’s interests are not being significantly and adversely affected.
Coca-Cola’s objection to Coke Cola Limited was the first to be lodged with the Tribunal and when the Respondent failed to file a defence within the requisite one-month period set by the adjudicator, the adjudicator was able to treat the case as being of “no contest” and made an order in accordance with Section 73(1) of the Act that Coke Cola Limited must change its name within one month. The Respondent still failed to respond and therefore the adjudicator is now free to determine a new company name for the Respondent under Section 73(5). Section 69 of the Companies Act could prove to be a highly useful tool for brand owners in that it permits them to apply to the Company Names Tribunal directly and to rely on the fundamental precepts of trade mark law and passing off to object to the registration of a company name whilst avoiding the significant expenditure normally associated with issuing court proceedings. Nonetheless, the true value ultimately of the new procedure will be judged by its effectiveness in resolving defended objections.