23 March 2020

IP Services During the Emergency

File:Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.jpg
Author NIAID  Licence CC BY 2.0

Jane Lambert

The suspension of so much business activity to facilitate social distancing does not mean that intellectual property is no longer a priority. On the contrary, it is now more important than ever.

If we are ever to stop Covid-19 in its tracks it will be through the efforts of universities and biotech and pharmaceutical companies around the world whose research will have to be funded.  Much of that funding will come from the private sector which will require legal protection for the revenue streams from which it will recoup such investment.

The businesses and institutions engaged in research in diagnostics, vaccines and cures will usually understand IP and have access to the best possible advice and representation but that will not necessarily apply to the many businesses, public health authorities and clinicians around the world who distribute those products. They need the best possible advice on patenting, licensing and technology transfer at affordable rates.

Also involved in the effort to stop the spread of the infection will be manufacturers and distributors of personal protective equipment, ventilators, respirators and various medical devices. It is there that there will be scope for small businesses and individuals to invent or design better products or components.  They will need help in putting their ideas and inventions into production.

It will not be just inventors, product designers and engineers who will contribute to this effort. Software developers who will track the spread of infection and the deployment of resources.  Artists and communicators will be needed to convey public health information to the public.

And when this emergency is over businesses will have to innovate and create as never before in order to restore our ravaged economy the planning for which has to start now.

Just at a time when entrepreneurs, inventors and others will require high-quality advice and representation more than ever, social distancing will make it more difficult to obtain.  So this is what I as an experienced IP practitioner will do to help.  Ever since the Public Access Scheme has been in operation I have set up and chaired inventors' clubs, run pro bono clinics in various parts of the UK and given talks at science parks, incubators, FabLabs, Business and IP Centres and other forums throughout the country.  I was due to speak to the inventors, makers and designers of Porthmadog at Ffiws Maker Space on 1 April 2020.  I had an IP clinic at Barnsley Business Village on 14 April 2020.  I was planning a high-level seminar on Green Innovation at the Menai Science Park on 27 April 2020 as Wales's contribution to World IP Day.

Now I can no longer keep these appointments in person but there is nothing to stop me from doing so online and that is precisely what I shall do.  Anybody who needs advice or assistance with an IP issue can contact me through my "Initial Advice and Signposting Form".  I can advise on IP law generally and represent clients in negotiations and disputes but I do not prosecute patent, design or trade mark applications, specialize in tax or company law, develop products or arrange funding.  However, I can probably direct clients to other experts such as patent or trade mark attorneys, commercial law firms, specialist accountants and product design consultants who can help with such issues.

I shall also be offering webinars to business owners, inventors, investors and indeed IP lawyers and attorneys for so long as social distancing has to continue.

Throughout this emergency the British and other intellectual property offices will remain open, most IP professionals will be working from home, the IPO and many courts will conduct hearings by phone or video link.  We may not be so easy to meet but there should be no suspension or diminution in the quality of services.

Anyone wanting to discuss this article can message me through my contact page.  If you want a chat I shall be glad to call you back by phone or Skype.

25 February 2020

IPO Guidance: Intellectual Property Insurance

Lloyd's Coffee House Source Wikipedia Insurance

Jane Lambert

The Intellectual Property Office ("IPO") has recently updated its guidance on IP insurance, It makes the point that such insurance may not be for every business but for some, it brings numerous benefits.  According to the guidance, those benefits are as follows:
  • "It can protect cash-flow: IP insurance can ensure that your dispute and particularly litigation, does not tie up capital which you could use to grow the business
  • it can provide a deterrent: LEI can give you the power to take action to enforce your rights where your financial position might not otherwise allow it. If a potential infringer knows that your insurance will cover making a claim, then it may be less likely to infringe or more likely they will stop when challenged. Some insurers are happy for you to confirm in marketing literature or on websites that your IP is insured, alerting competitors that insurance is in place
  • it can improve your negotiating position: If this deterrent does not work then the knowledge that you can go to court (as a last resort) can encourage the alleged infringer to negotiate or mediate. Insurance can provide you with the means to take vital defensive action meaning there will be no need to settle on poor terms
  • it might allow your IP to be used as collateral and can add value: Insurance can reassure lenders and investors that the value will not be lost because you cannot fight infringers/invalidity challenges. Potential licensees will also know that you can take legal action if necessary and will be indemnified if required."
Cover against the costs of litigation and other expenses is available both before and after an infringement has occurred.   Cover that is obtained before an infringement occurs is known as before-the-event ("BTE") insurance and cover after the infringement is known as after-the-event ("ATE") insurance.  As might be expected BTE insurance is considerably cheaper than ATE.  ATE policies were very popular before the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force because a successful party could recover its premiums and its legal representatives' success fee from the losing party. That came to an end on 31 March 2013 (see Jane Lambert Intellectual Property Litigation - the Funding Options 10 April 2013 NIPC Law and Jane Lambert The Effect of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill on Intellectual Property Litigation 14 July 2011 NIPC Law). It is still possible to take out ATE insurance but the premiums must be paid by the insured. For that reason, such policies are much less common and the IPO guidance does not even bother to mention them.

The guidance lists the risks against which it is possible to insure.   These include:
  • opinion only: covers legal costs of obtaining an opinion on the likelihood of successfully enforcing or defending an IP claim;
  • enforcement and defence: covers legal costs of taking action to stop others infringing IP rights and defending allegations of infringement. Can cover enforcement and defence either separately or together
  • damages: covers any damages payable in an infringement action
  • validity: covers legal costs of defending challenges to the validity of the insured's IP rights
  • lost revenue: covers revenue lost as a result of losing IP rights
  • indemnity: covers liabilities arising under guarantees given to third parties, and
  • cyber: covers losses from a variety of cyber incidents, including IPR breaches.
Premiums and excesses are also considered in the guidance.   By way of a rough indication, a typical premium for £100,000 (the cost of patent infringement proceedings in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court) would be about £1,500.  The guidance adds that many insurers will accept premiums by instalments.

A link to a list of brokers, insurers and other providers is in the guidance. Advice is given on identifying a broker, selecting the optimum cover, making a claim and resolving disputes with insurers through the Financial Ombudsman.  The guidance discusses alternative methods of resolving IP disputes such as examiners' opinions on such matters as whether a patent is valid or whether it is infringed, and the IPO's mediation service.

Readers are referred to the IP insurance pages of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys and the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys.  I have also written a number of articles on IP insurance since 2005 which are listed in the table below.  Anyone wishing to discuss this article or IP insurance generally can call me on 020 7404 5252 or send me a message through my contact page. 

21 February 2020

FFIWS - Another Resource for Inventors, Designers and Makers in North Wales

Jane Lambert

In The Pontio Centre: A Resource for Inventors, Designers and Makers in North Wales 14 Dec 2018 I wrote about the FabLab at the Pontio Arts and Innovation Centre in Bangor. I have recently learned of another resource for inventors, designers and markers on the other side of Snowdon at Porthmadog.

The resource is known as Ffiws and is to be found at 125 High Street just a short walk from Cadwalader's ice cream parlour which is not just a Welsh but a UK culinary treasure. FFIWS's website describes it as "a co-operative maker space" containing a variety of different high-tech equipment, as well as electronic equipment and hand tools.

According to the website, the equipment includes:
  • a 3D Printer
  • Laser Cutter
  • CNC Machine
  • Heat Press
  • Mug Press
  • Sublimation Printer
  • Vinyl Cutter
and more,  There are pictures of some of those items on the website.

The website states that this is a pilot project to create a community of makers and to give everyone the chance to access high-tech equipment.  The objective is to encourage creativity and teach new skills. It is hoped that the community will be able to take ownership of the space and to carry it on beyond our pilot project.  This project is one of a growing number of initiatives to encourage inventors and startups in Northwest Wales (see Jane Lambert Resources for Inventors and other Startups in Northwest Wales 5 Feb 2019).

Anyone wishing to discuss this article or business startups generally may call me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact page,

22 November 2019

So You've Got A Patent!

Jane Lambert

Congratulations! It probably took a little longer to get than you expected. It almost certainly cost you more money than you had bargained for.  But so long as you pay the renewal fees you have an asset that is bound to make your fortune. Right?

Well, not exactly. You have a right to stop other people from making, marketing, importing or selling something that you have invented but a patent is not a meal ticket. It exists to give you an opportunity to recoup the time and money you spent in devising the invention and perhaps a little extra on the side either by working the patent yourself or by licensing it to others. Whether you can do that or not will depend on whether anybody wants to buy your invention.

If there is a market for the invention, there is always a possibility that somebody will want to muscle in. Such a person may want to do it fairly by seeking a licence from you or by using a technology that does not infringe your patent, but there are also those who would try to sweep your patent out of the way in revocation or declaration of non-infringement proceedings or simply ignore your patent if they don't think you can afford to enforce it.  Unlike some other intellectual property rights such as copyright, trade marks, rights in performances or, nowadays, registered designs, it is not an offence to infringe a patent in this country even if it is done quite blatantly, cynically and on an industrial scale.

If anyone infringes your patent you have to sue and patent litigation is not cheap. You can't use the small claims track of the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court ("IPEC") because the rules specifically exclude patents, registered and registered Community designs, semiconductor topography and plant variety claims from that tribunal.  You can use the IPEC multitrack but you have to be prepared to pay up to £50,000 if you lose the case and probably a great deal more than that to your own legal team. That is a lot better than the Patents Court where the costs that can be awarded against you are unlimited and can run into millions.

So unless you are a millionaire, your company is really coining it or you have some other source of funding you should consider before-the-event insurance cover against IP disputes before a dispute arises (see my article It is never enough to get a patent, trade mark or registered design 19 Aug 2019 and my links to other articles). It is unrealistic to expect a lawyer specializing in IP to represent you on a no-win no-fee basis because the risks, costs and wait for payment are too great however strong your case. IP insurance is not cheap but it is a lot better than bankruptcy or watching a competitor ride roughshod over your rights.

So, what should you do if you think that someone is infringing your patent? Well, one thing you should not do is take matters in your own hands and write a stroppy letter to the other side. S.70 of the Patents Act 1977 and subsequent sections prohibit threats of patent infringement proceedings that cannot be made out. If you make such a threat (however politely) you risk an action for an injunction, declaration and costs that could cost you plenty. Any lawyer or patent attorney with any experience of patent litigation will be aware of this section but many non-specialist lawyers aren't. If they make a groundless threat on your behalf it is you who will have to carry the can.

Where do you find a specialist lawyer? Any firm that belongs to the Intellectual Property Lawyers Association should be able to help you. There are good solicitors in other firms but you have to be careful because not every solicitor who claims experience of IP has actually done a patent case.  Another possible option is a patent attorney litigator.  Not every patent attorney has expertise in civil litigation but there is a growing number who have. The CIPA and IPReg websites should help you find one. Yet another option is to consult a member of the IP Bar. We are advocates and not litigators but we are probably in a better position than most to recommend a good litigator.

Civil proceedings begin with the service or delivery of a claim form on the alleged wrongdoer.  The claim form is usually accompanied by another document known as particulars of claim. Those particulars must state the facts on which you base your claim and the remedy that you want precisely. In a patent infringement claim, your particulars of claim must state which of the claims of your patent is alleged to have been infringed and give at least one example of at least one alleged infringement.  The "claims" are the numbered paragraphs at the end of your patent specification setting out the features of your invention.  The reason they are set out in numbered paragraphs is that if one of them is too broad you may still be able to rely on one of the others. If your invention is a product the patent is infringed by making, marketing, importing or using a product that has all the features of at least one of the claims.

It is possible that the alleged infringer will accept the strength of your case and seek a settlement or simply throw in the towel but you cannot bank on that. He or she may challenge your interpretation of the claim and argue that his or her product falls outside its wording,  It is likely that he or she will dispute the validity of the patent on one of several grounds.  If your opponent can show that someone else invented exactly the same thing before you applied for your patent can be revoked (taken away) on the grounds that your invention was not new. Another possible ground for revocation is that your invention would have been obvious to anyone with the appropriate skills and knowledge having regard to everything that was known at the time of your application.  You might think that all this would have been considered by the examiner when you applied for your patent but the sad fact is that the time and resources that are available to an examiner are nothing like the time and resources that your opponent will expend in order to knock out your patent.  A surprisingly large number of patents are revoked in whole or in part when patentees bring infringement claims.

If you win your action you will be awarded an injunction and a contribution to your legal fees which will be limited to £50,000 if you brought your claim in IPEC.  You would probably get more if you sue in the Patents Court but even the awards in that court are unlikely to cover everything you spent. An injunction is an order by a judge to do or not to do something. If it is disobeyed the court may punish the defendant with a fine or even imprisonment.  What you will not get at this stage is damages or accountable profits.  That will require another hearing known as an account or inquiry which may take place several months or even a year or so in the future. That will also cost a lot of money,

There is obviously a lot more to patent enforcement than I can mention in a short note.  The important thing is to think about enforcement and arrange to fund it whether by insurance or otherwise well before a dispute arises. If you want to discuss this article or anything relating to it, call me on 020 7404 5252 or send me a message through my contact form.

02 November 2019

Business and Technical Information from Patent Databases

Jane Lambert

An invention is a solution to a technical problem. When applying for a patent for an invention, the inventor has to file among other things a document known as a "specification".  Such specification must contain a description of the invention and any drawing referred to in the description and disclose the invention in a manner which is clear enough and complete enough for the invention to be performed by a person skilled in the art. In due course, the specification is examined by officials of the intellectual property office known as "examiners" for compliance with the legislation governing patents and published on the office's website for all to see.

As an invention has to be new and involve an inventive step to justify a patent, such publications are important sources of scientific and technical information.  Many of those publications are held on giant databases such as the UK Intellectual Property Office's Ipsum, the European Patent Office's Espacenet and Google Patents.

These are two good reasons for consulting such a database.  The first is that you have an invention for which you seek a patent. You will want to check the prior art to ascertain whether your invention really is new and does involve an inventive step.  In almost every case your patent attorney will do that for you when you first instruct him but, if there is something out there that you can spot for yourself, you can save yourself a lot of time and money and instruct him more effectively by making your own search.  The second good reason is to find out about the latest technology.  In Why researchers should care about patents, the European Patent Office offers three advantages:
  • Avoiding duplication of R&D efforts and spending; 
  • Finding solutions to technical problems; and
  • Gathering business intelligence. 
Henk Heus actually gives 10 Reasons Why Research Scientists Should Patent Search though these seem to be substantially the same as the EPO's (see 29 Oct 2015 GQ Life Sciences). According to Heus, up to 30% of R&D expenditure is wasted on duplicating research that has already been carried out.
Different databases will allow you to search in different ways.  With Ipsum, you need the application or publication number and the first page will look like this:

From the menu in the top right-hand corner, you can select the documents that you need.  Nearly every transaction relating to the invention will be recorded on Ipsum. So if you want to trace the prosecution history this is the place to go.   Espacenet and Google will allow you to search by proprietor, title and other search terms as well as by number.  These are the tools that you will use to make a more general enquiry,

When you find an invention that interests you can choose the full specification or the parts of the specification that interest you most such as the abstract, description, drawings or claims. The abstract will be a summary of the invention.  The description is essentially an instruction manual. It will identify the problem that the invention seeks to solve, discuss previous attempted solutions where they fell short. set out the solution in principle and then give an example.  It may do that by reference to numbered diagrams known as the "drawings".  At the end of the specification, there will be numbered paragraphs known as "the claims". That is the monopoly sought by the applicant.  Usually, the widest is expressed first and all subsequent ones tend to be narrower than the first rather like a matryoshka doll.    You should remember at all times that the specification is addressed to the "person skilled in the art", that is to say, the person or team of persons having the knowledge, skills and experience to make or use the invention.  Some words or terms may have a special meaning which is different from everyday usage.

While not essential, some introductory training in patent searching can help at the start.  Patent search workshops have been offered from time to time by the British Library and some of the other Business and IP Centres around the country. I shall be giving a short one-hour introduction to patent, trade mark and design searches and how to read patent specifications at the Menai Science Park on Angelsey between 13:30 and 14:30 on 29 Nov 2019 (see How to use Patent, Trade Mark and Registered Design Databases 2 Nov 2019 NIPC Wales). If you want to sign up for the class which is free, click here.

Anyone wishing to discuss this article or patents generally should call me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact page.

29 October 2019

An Inventor's Guide to Shanks v Unilever

UK Supreme Court
Author Christine Smith Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

Jane Lambert

On 23 Oct 2019, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom delivered a judgment that could affect anyone who works in R&D or in some other capacity in which he or she is likely to devise an invention. It could also affect an inventor who assigns his or her rights in an invention to his or her employer.  Five justices of the Supreme Court found that an invention that had generated revenues of £24 million had been of such "outstanding benefit" for the inventor's employer that the inventor deserved a payment of £2 million in addition to the salary and perks that he had received from his employment.

The case is known as Shanks v Unilever Plc and others and you can read all about it on the Supreme Court's website and my case note, Employees' Inventions - Shanks v Unilever of 28 Oct 2019 in NIPC Law.  My note links to a press summary of the judgment and a video in which Lord Kitchin, who delivered that judgment, reads that summary.

The right to an additional payment known as "compensation" arises out of s.40 of the Patents Act 1977. Subsection (1) could affect you if you are employed in a capacity where you are likely to devise an invention. Subsection (2) if you are employed in some other capacity that entitles you to patent your invention but you sell or grant an exclusive licence to your patent or right to apply for a patent to your employer,

However, inventors can't expect compensation in addition to their pay and benefits for any old invention.  It has to be one that generates an "outstanding benefit" for the employer. That is to say, a benefit that is exceptional or stands out.  That is not easy to prove.  Not many employed inventors apply for compensation and most of the applications that are made fail.

The significance of the Supreme Court's decision is that the Court made an award to the inventor even though £24 million is chicken feed to a multinational group of companies like Unilever.  The inventor, who is now a visiting professor of electronics and electrical engineering in the University of Glasgow, had worked in R&D for a subsidiary of Unilever in the 1980s. He applied for compensation as long ago as 2006. He took his case to the Comptroller-General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks who appointed an official known as a "hearing officer" to hear his plea. 

One of the factors that the hearing officer had to consider under s.40 (1) was "the size and nature" of the employer's undertaking.  As Unilever, which makes everything from ice cream to deodorant is massive, the hearing officer could not say that £24 million was an "outstanding benefit" for that company. He dismissed the application. The inventor appealed to Mr Justice Arnold who agreed with the hearing officer. He then appealed to the Court of Appeal which agreed with the judge below and the hearing officer.

The inventor finally appealed to the Supreme Court which is the highest court of the United Kingdom. There Lord Kitchin, who had distinguished himself as a barrister of the intellectual property bar and later as a judge of the Patents Court and Lord Justice of Appeal, said that the hearing officer and the courts below had been looking at the words "the size and nature of the employer's undertaking" the wrong way.  The inventor had not been employed by the whole Unilever group but by a subsidiary that was responsible for R&D.  The correct way to consider the issue was to compare the benefits that had accrued from the invention in this case with all other inventions in the field that had emanated from the same subsidiary.  If that was done the £24 million benefit really did stand out and the inventor was entitled to a fair share of it.

The hearing officer had decided that 5% of the £24 million, which would have amounted to £1.2 million, was a fair share had he been able to make an award of compensation to the inventor and the Supreme Court agreed.  However, as Unilever had enjoyed the use of that money for many years and as the value of that sum had been eroded by inflation the Supreme Court gave the inventor an uplift to £2 million. Mr Justice Arnold had said that corporation tax should be deducted from the £24 million but the Court of Appeal disagreed with him and so did the Supreme Court.

Lord Kitchin made clear that the methodology of assessing the benefit from the invention having regard to the size and nature of the employer's undertaking did not apply to every case.  Sometimes it is appropriate to consider the benefit in relation to the revenues of the whole company as was the case where an employee's invention transformed the fortunes of the company.  Each case depends on its own facts.

While it is still not easy for an inventor to recover compensation over and above his or her salary and benefits this case has undoubtedly removed some obstacles and clarified the law. Most applications for employee's compensation start in the Intellectual Property Office where the procedure is less formal than a court and the costs that may be awarded against the unsuccessful party are considerably lower.

Anyone wishing to discuss this article or employee's inventions generally should call me on 020 7404 5252 or send me a message through my contact form.

14 October 2019

A Useful Little Video from the EPO

Standard YouTube Licence

There's more to the Law of Confidence than NDAs

Jane Lambert

I am often asked to draft or review non-disclosure agreements or "NDA". I do so with a lot of trepidation because there are many misconceptions about such instruments.  A typical example occurred last week when I was asked to advise how to prevent potential collaborators and investors from making stealing the idea for a new software product.  I had advised that copyright was likely to subsist in anything that had been written down and that the law of confidence could prevent unauthorized use or disclosure.

"Oh!" came the reply. "So long as I have an NDA in place I should be alright?" Where that idea had come from, I just don't know.  I had not even mentioned non-disclosure agreements.  "That's not what I said," I told him.  "There's much more to the law of confidence that NDAs",

If, as sometimes, happens I am instructed to resist an application for an interim injunction where the applicant relies on an NDA I have a field day.  First, I ask whether the information was ever confidential in the first place.  Sometimes it is something that has been common knowledge in the industry since Adam was a boy.  Other times there has been no attempt to keep the information secret. I was once negotiating terms of a licence which negotiations were taking place in services offices when I found the other side's supposedly confidential document in the publicly accessible ladies' loo. There is often room to dispute whether the confidentiality agreement was ever intended to apply to the information in question. One way or another, a halfway competent intellectual property specialist can drive a coach and horses through a bog-standard standalone non-disclosure agreement.

I think confusion arises because folk regard an NDA in the same way as they do commercial agreements.  That is a mistake because any obligation not to disclose or use confidential information arises not from the contract but from the relationship between the parties.  Mr Justice Megarry put it this way in Coco v A.N. Clark (Engineers) Limited  [1968] F.S.R. 415, 419:
"In my judgment, three elements are normally required if, apart from contract, a case of breach of confidence is to succeed. First, the information itself, in the words of Lord Greene, M.R. in the Saltman case on page 215, must “have the necessary quality of confidence about it” . Secondly, that information must have been imparted in circumstances importing an obligation of confidence. Thirdly, there must be an unauthorised use of that information to the detriment of the party communicating it. I must briefly examine each of these requirements in turn."
The key phrase is "circumstances imparting an obligation of confidence".  The signing of a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement can indeed be one of those circumstances but it is not essential.  There are many circumstances in which an obligation of confidence can arise where there is no agreement at all.  Consulting a patent attorney about a patent for an invention is one obvious example.  Finding documents in the street marked "Top Secret" or "Confidential" would be another.

If you want to rely on the law of confidence, print a form in duplicate on no carbon required paper with boxes for:
  • The name and full postal address, job title, email, telephone and other contact details of the confidante and those of his or her employer if they are different.
  • Identify the information to be delivered and the way in which it is to be passed (that is to say, private conversation, whether it is is a document and if so what it contains).
  • An acknowledgement that the information has been disclosed in confidence.
  • A finite period in which the confidante can contend that the information is not confidential at all and a rapid and cost-effective way of resolving such contentions such as expert determination or expedited arbitration.
  • The use to which the information may be put.
  • A deadline for the return of confidential documents and may have been made.
  • Submission to the jurisdiction of the English courts.

Every single confidential conversation and the delivery of every single document should be recorded and logged separately.  If any of the conditions is breached, the confider should call the confidante at once. If it is still not put right the confider should consider legal action including possibly an interim injunction.

Anyone wishing to discuss this article or confidentiality generally should call me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form.