On 1 October 2010, the Patents County Court (PCC) was relaunched with radical new rules and a new judge at the helm. The PCC was first created twenty years ago with the intention of being a more affordable forum for patent litigation. The PCC was however hampered by the fact that its procedural rules were identical to those of the High Court (Patents Court). In addition, there was no cap on the costs payable by the losing party to the winning party - the risk of a substantial adverse costs award may have been a major drawback for potential PCC litigants.
The distinctive features of the PCC under the new rules are as follows:
- The pleadings must set out concisely all facts and arguments on which a party relies.
- No disclosure of documents, nor any witness evidence unless ordered by the court.
- Where possible, the court will determine the claim solely on the basis of the parties' pleadings and oral arguments.
- Insofar as there are witnesses, cross-examination at trial will be strictly controlled by the court.
A further hallmark of the reformed PCC is that the judge will seek to control the proceedings through rigorous case management. But the unique new feature of the PCC is that recoverable costs are to be capped at £50,000 in relation to liability and £25,000 on a damages inquiry. There is no such automatic costs cap in the High Court, so from that point of view at least, the PCC will be a more attractive forum for some litigants.
There has been a great deal of support for these reforms so as to enable the PCC to become a highly cost-effective forum and one distinct from the High Court (Patents Court). But new procedural rules alone are not enough without a suitable judge. The appointment of Colin Birss QC as the new judge of the PCC has therefore been widely welcomed. Like his predecessor Judge Fysh, Mr Birss is a highly experienced IP barrister.
We can now look forward to an exciting new period in the life of the Patents County Court.