1 October 2012 saw the introduction of the new “small claims track” to the Patents County Court (PCC), which will allow individuals without legal representation to bring a claim for copyright, trade mark or unregistered design right infringement or passing off, provided that the value of the claim is not more than £5,000. Registered design cases and patent infringement claims will not be considered under this new track.

Costs orders are limited to a cap of £260 for legal fees and extended case management powers allow the court to “adopt any method of proceeding at a hearing that it considers to be fair”. It is hoped that this will result in a simpler procedure for dealing quickly and effectively with cases. The author is in favour of bringing legal recourse within the reach of small businesses and individual designers. However, the merits of these reforms need to be balanced against the risk that the new track may encourage spurious claims to be brought by claimants who no longer face the fear of excessive costs orders in the event of an unsuccessful claim.

With allocation to the small claims track needing to be elected for in the Particulars of Claim, and the possibility of the defendant objecting to allocation to this track in its defence, resulting in allocation being determined by the Court according to the complexity and value of the claim, we would hope that the true benefits of the Small Claims Track will be realised.