On 22 October 2010, the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) launched a consultation entitled “Setting the Limit” to determine whether a cap of £500,000 should be put on the value of claims to be heard at the Patents County Court (PCC). In spite of its name, the jurisdiction of the PCC extends to the full range of IP rights and it has concurrent jurisdiction with the High Court in respect of IP litigation of any value. The consultation, which is available on the IPO website, closes on 3 December 2010.

BACKGROUND

The consultation arises out of the recommendations of Lord Justice Jackson in his Review of Civil Litigation Costs which was published in January 2010. In it, Lord Justice Jackson endorsed the proposals of the Intellectual Property Court Users Committee (IPCUC) for reforming the PCC, which had already been tested by consultation, saying “the fact that almost universal support for the IPCUC’s proposals was expressed... is compelling. My own experience this year suggests that it is rare for court users or lawyers to agree about anything which is on the reform agenda.” The aim of the proposals is to differentiate the PCC from the High Court, to reduce the cost of lower-value IP litigation, and to ensure that this falls within the jurisdiction of the PCC from the outset.

The PCC was created in 1990 by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA), with a view to providing an affordable forum for IP litigation. Although there is provision in the CDPA for a limit on the value of claims that could be heard by the PCC, this provision was not implemented at the time and, as a result of the Woolf reforms, there has been little need to do so since. In more recent years, cases have been transferred regularly from the High Court lists to those of the PCC and vice versa, but in order to reduce uncertainty for litigants and to remove the wasted costs associated with transfers, the UK Government now proposes to impose a cap.

Following the Jackson Review, there has been broad support for the proposal from judges, legal practitioners, industry and businesses. The aim of the current consultation is therefore to determine the level at which the cap should be set.

 THE FUTURE OF THE PCC

The proposals of the IPCUC are to be implemented in stages and the current consultation is limited to the question of a cap on the value of litigation that the court could hear. It seeks views on whether interested parties agree with the recommendation of the IPCUC that the figure for the limit on the value of claims heard in the PCC should initially be set at £500,000 (excluding interest) and, if not, what the limit should be and why.

The final stage of the reform is likely to include (somewhat belatedly) primary legislation to change the name of the PCC to the Intellectual Property County Court.