After its ‘re-launch’ in the Autumn of 2010, the restyled Patents County Court (PCC) has been roundly hailed. The energetic Judge Birss has been racing through his work. Following a promotional blitzkrieg upon his appointment, he has delivered particularly detailed judgments at both case management conferences and at trials. Such helpful guidance is clearly aimed at those weighing up whether to bring proceedings in the PCC and appears to have been successful in drumming up further business, although not of the main kind originally envisaged.
To date his judgments have included decisions in trade marks, passing off, copyright and design rights but, as yet, no cases of alleged patent infringement or invalidity. We are told that the Judge’s diary is chock-a-block through the Autumn of 2011, but that patent cases are still rare exceptions.
With the recent imposition of a recoverable damages cap of £500,000, and with costs awards limited to £50,000, it may be that patent cases do not find a natural home in the PCC. As the Court beds down, it may become a better forum for smaller design right, copyright and trade mark disputes. As such it is notable that Judge Birss has suggested that the court be renamed the Intellectual Property County Court, a change of name the government has recently indicated it approves.
Following the recent Hargreaves recommendations, the government has expressed keenness for a small claims track for intellectual property cases for sums of £5,000 or less, so long as the move satisfies a ‘value for money’ test. Such cases would find a natural home at the PCC. There is an argument that such disputes may be better handled outside the court system, but ministers said “access to the courts at a proportionate cost should act as an incentive to settle or arbitrate as well as being a means of resolving less tractable but straightforward disputes.”
On this basis it may not be long before the court’s diary is full to bursting point, something that will no doubt please Judge Birss so soon after the re-launch. Such success will surely be noticed. With at least one slot opening for a High Court patent specialist following the recent promotion of Kitchin J to the Court of Appeal, it may be not be that long before Judge Birss is offered the chance to bring his case management skills to bear on larger, more complicated disputes.