As a barrister, I am often shown a blatant act of piracy or a breathtakingly unjustified letter before claim and am asked for my opinion on the strength of the claim. More often than not, that is the last I ever hear of the matter. Sometimes I run into the patent agent or solicitor who consulted me and ask what happened. “Oh! The client just could not afford to fight” is the usual answer. “So he let it go” or as the case may be, “He just caved in.”
Now if you consult TaylorWessing’s Patent Map, click the arrow beside “I have a question for all countries” in the left-hand box, click again on “Questions concerning First Instance” and choose the “Typical costs at first instance?” option, you will see why. The figure for England and Wales is £200,000 to £1 million. Compare that to France (€200,000 to €800,000), Germany (infringement €100,000 to €200,000 and the same for validity), the Netherlands (€75,000 to €200,000_ and Switzerland (court fees: €830 – €125,000 attorney’s fees: €1,700 – €250,000). It is not surprising that only 5,736 European patent applications were made from the UK in 2018 compared to 26,734 from Germany, 10,317 from France, 7,927 from Switzerland 7,140 from the Netherlands (source European patent applications by country of origin 2009 to 2018).
Of course, those figures don’t tell the whole story. Patents for European countries can be granted by national intellectual property offices such as the IPO in Newport as well as by the European Patent Office. Intellectual property litigation can be conducted far more cheaply in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court than the Patents Court or the rest of the Chancery Division. But these figures tend to confirm the widely-held view that IP litigation in England and Wales is prohibitively expensive and that it is just not worth spending many thousands of pounds on a patent or other registered right which costs many thousands of pounds more to enforce.
Now what, if anything, can be done about that? The Ministry of Justice has probably done as much as it could by streamlining the practice and procedure of the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court, introducing a small claims track for the simpler cases and requiring all courts to manage their cases at proportionate costs. The IPO offers a cost-effective mediation service and examiners’ opinions on such issues as whether a patent is valid and whether it has been infringed. The Unified Patents Court would have created a level playing field for all European patent owners but that may well have been scuppered by brexit and litigation in the German Constitutional Court,
Probably the best way forward is for businesses to consider enforcement whenever they apply for a patent, trade mark or registered design or acquire some non-registrable right. In the case of a start-up or other small business that probably means taking out IP insurance. I have been writing about this topic since 2005 (see IP Insurance: Does it Work? 3 Sept 2005 NIPC Law, IP Insurance 3 Sept 2005 NIPC Inventors’ Club, 6 Feb 2006 IP Insurance: Two More Insurers Identified 6 Feb 2006 NIPC Inventors Club, IP Insurance Five Years On 26 Oct 2010 NIPC Inventors Club, Intellectual Property – The Funding Options 10 April 2013 NIPC Law, IP Insurance: CIPA’s Paper and 1 May 2916 NIPC Inventors Club).
Back in 2005, there were not many brokers with experience of arranging IP insurance and many patent and trade mark attorneys were sceptical of the value of the policies. Because after-the-event premiums and success fees were then recoverable from unsuccessful paries, many rightsholders thought that it would always be possible to find solicitors and counsel who would accept instructions on a no-win-no-fee retainer should a dispute ever arise. All that changed with the Legal Aid, Sentencing, Punishment and Management of Offenders Act 2012 and costs capping in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (see Success Fees and ATE Premiums in the Patents County Court: Henderson v All Around the World Recordings Ltd 14 July 2011 NIPC Law). The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys published IP Insurance and other IP litigation funding arrangements in 2016. The Intellectual Property Office published its guidance on Intellectual Property Insurance on 22 Jan 2016 which it updated earlier this year.
The IPO’s guidance covers the types of before-the-event IP insurance policies that are available, the types of litigation, jurisdiction and risks that can be covered, the costs and benefits, the criteria for setting premiums, the claiming process and alternatives to litigation such as IPO examiners’ opinions and mediation. There is also a list of specialist brokers on the CIPA and IPO’s websites. Provision for IP insurance premiums or some other funding should appear in every business plan. Angels, private equity investors, bankers and other lenders should insist on it. It is as important as rent, equipment hire and employees’ wages.
Anyone wishing to discuss this article or IP insurance generally should call me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form.