Small claims track significant development in the protection of IP, says FAST
Industry body welcomes development but expresses concern over claims threshold
A small claims track has been introduced to the Patents County Court (PCC) to provide copyright, trademark and unregistered design holders the option of pursuing basic Intellectual Property (IP) disputes through an informal hearing, without necessarily having legal representation, significantly reducing the cost of pursuing a case.
Julian Heathcote Hobbins, General Counsel at the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST), has broadly welcomed the news, suggesting that it represents a significant step in the Government’s on-going reform agenda and a promising development for the protection of SMEs and the broader digital economy:
“FAST has long supported the introduction of a small claims court for soft IP disputes so we are pleased to see it finally come to fruition. It promises to ease the path to justice for smaller copyright holders that have been effectively frozen out of the traditional judicial system, which for them is unduly burdensome and complicated. Although small and micro-sized companies comprise the innovative backbone of the software industry, they often lack the financial clout and resources to confront infringers in the High Court. This small claims track promises provide a valuable lifeline for these software houses, so vital to the industry.
“With the introduction of a small claims court, the judicial process will speed up, significantly reducing the costs of pursuing a claim, limiting the impact of delays on business, freeing up the courts to process with efficiency a greater number of matters,” he continued.
Robin Fry, Partner, DAC Beachcroft LLP and member of FLAG, added:
“Intellectual property claims have, until now, been unfairly excluded from the small claims court leaving many creatives, developers and designers adrift without a practical measure to prevent unlawful copying. The judicial system will soon realise that these kind of disputes can, in many cases, be straightforward and that infringement can be readily identified. Once this is established the current £5,000 cut off figure must be raised significantly.”
Julian noted that the claim threshold, currently restricted to damages of £5,000 or less, would require on-going evaluation to ensure that the needs of SMEs were being met:
“Although, in the first instance, a limit of £5,000 seems sensible, keeping the threshold so low for the long-term may risk unfairly excluding many smaller software houses. It’s important that the threshold for claims adequately reflects the reality faced by software companies today, to enable them to resolve their disputes simply and cheaply and relieve the burden of these cases from the courts. To boot, the icing on the cake would be to be able to initiate the claim online akin the debt recovery service where claims are slam-dunk.
“The digital economy is a vital seam of wealth creation in the UK, but growth in the sector has thus far been undermined by infringement risk to Intellectual Property. In order to encourage real growth, the government needs to foster an environment in which creative and digital industries can flourish. Key to this is the reassurance to businesses, and investors, that their IP will be supported and investment rightfully rewarded” he concluded.