Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Shanks v Unilever: Supremes identify outstanding benefit

The provisions of the Patents Act 1977 on compensation of employees for certain inventions (principally s.40) have no doubt been a disappointment to their proponents. The Trade Union Congress was influential in getting them included in the Act, and my friend Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran took the leading role (I think) in piloting them through Parliament, but they hardly ever deliver for the employee-inventor (Kelly and Chiu v GE Healthcare [2009] EWHC 181 (Pat) being the single swallow that could not make a summer). The problem is that the invention has to be of outstanding benefit to the employer, and the bigger the employer the harder it is to make that sort of impression on its business.

Shanks v Unilever [2017] EWCA Civ 2 was perhaps the paradigm case of an employee's invention not being of outstanding benefit to his employer because the company was too big to pay. £24 million is  not a lot to Unilever. Although the Court of Appeal recognised that the Hearing Officer who made the initial determination had to take many factors into account, it also recognised that the size of the employer eclipsed the others. "Too big to pay" is not the general rule, but it comes close. Or did, until today.

That case has now given us Shanks v Unilever Plc & Ors [2019] UKSC 45 (23 October 2019) in which Lord Kitchin (with whom the other Supremes, unsurprisingly given his background in IP law, agreed) warned that tribunals “should be very cautious before accepting a submission that a patent has not been of outstanding benefit to an employer simply because it has had no significant impact on its overall profitability or the value of all of its sales”.

A benefit, to be outstanding, has to stand out (the sort of statement of the obvious that judicial decisions are required from time to time to make). The consequence of this is perhaps rather less obvious: to stand out, the thing being considered has to be compared against something else. And what is the something else against which it has to be compared - the multinational ice-cream-to-deodorants behemoth, or Unilever UK Central Resources Ltd which actually employed him? The answer turns out to be a pracgmatic one - although Professor Shanks OBE FRS FREng (as the judgment calls him) worked for a small cog in the Unilever machine, it was right to consider the benefit to Unilever rather than strictly to his employer. The Act contains what are designed to work as anti-avoidance provisions, so the employer cannot licence the patent at a peppercorn royalty so as to avoid liability for compensation, and this approach seems consistent with this.

The decision also confirms that the outstandingness (my word) of the benefit must be assessed before tax, and that the employee should be compensated for what his Lordship rather nicely called the affect of time on the value of money. The application had been made in 2006, and only came before a hearing officer in 2012 since when it has taken a further seven years to get to this stage, which was not something for which the court thought blame should be laid at the Professor's door.

So Prof Shanks's invention was of outstanding benefit to his employer, and he was entitled to a fair share of that benefit. The lower instances had done the heavy lifting on the calculations, which I guess are not for the Supremes to interfere with except to say that Arnold J had been wrong to reduce the Hearing Officer's 5 per cent to 3 on the interesting basis that Unilever were able to drive a harder bargain than others in licensing transactions because they had deep pockets and would be able to protect their patents. The percentage was applied to the £24 million that the Hearing Officer had identified as the benefit, and the Professor receives a nice £2 million in recognition of the significance of his invention.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Contempt and failure to comply with court order

Price and others v Flitcraft Ltd and others [2019] EWHC 2476 (Pat) is a straightforward (though rare - at least until recently, because just a few months ago we had Juul Labs, Inc & Anor v Quickjuul Ltd & Ors [2019] EWHC 1281 (Ch) (21 May 2019)) case of a defendant failing to do what the court ordered to repair infringements of patent and copyright, and being held in contempt as a result. There seems to be no new or startling legal principles involved but its subject-matter demands attention.

The defendants were found by the court to have breached the injunction by distributing a brochure. It showed the infringing product, and also contained matter that infringed the copyright.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

No implied duty of confidence in standards-setting body

A European Patents Office board of appeal has decided, on the face of it surprisingly, that there is no implied obligation of confidence on members of a standards-setting committee. Because there was no implied duty, the claimed invention was anticipated by documents available to the committee and therefore (within the broad definition in the Convention) available to the public. The invention therefore lacked novelty so could not be protected by a patent.

The consequences clearly follow the board's finding that there was no implied duty (and no express duty either, of course - one lesson from the decision must be that more use needs to be made of appropriate confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements). But why was there no implied duty?

The answer is that the process of devising standards is a collaborative one, involving extensive consultation among interested parties. At least, that's what the board said, and it sounds convincing. 'The evidence points to a system designed to guarantee a certain "privacy" of its data while at the same time being sufficiently pragmatic and flexible to allow consultation with other parties in order for it satisfactorily to fulfil its mission', it stated. Whether a document or other carrier of information be confidential or no is relative, to some extent, and 'a certain "privacy'" does not amount to confidentiality.

So the lesson is that if you are involved in standards-setting, you need to make use of appropriate agreements and undertakings. They might make the standards-setting harder work, but they will preserve the possibility of gaining patent protection. ALthough you could always file the application earlier.

T 2239/15T MPEG INPUT DOCUMENTS/Fraunhofer – Dolby 

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Transfers from IPEC to the Patents Court

Just a glance at the title will tell you that Kwikbolt Ltd v Airbus Operations Ltd [2019] EWHC 2450 (IPEC) (31 July 2019) (not yet on Bailii, only reported by PLC, whose brief report I gratefully acnknowledge, so there is a great deal more to know about this) must be a David and Goliath contest. No matter how large the claimant might be, the defendant is pretty sure to be much bigger. On the face of it, even without considering the nature of the dispute, it is likely to be exactly the sort of claim that IPEC (and the Patents County Court before it) was designed for.

Nor will it come as a surprise that the defendant should have applied to transfer the case to to the Patents Court. Litigation is driven almost entirely by cost considerations, and if you can make your opponent worried that they will run out of money in the Patents Court instead of enjoying the cost caps that apply in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court it would be unrealistic to expect any litigator, seeking to do their best for their client, not to try to transfer it.

The question for the court hearing such an application is whether the case is complex enough to justify transfer. Does it need days of court time with loads of expert witnesses - the very opposite of the speedy operation of IPEC? HHJ Hacon thought not. With proper management, the case could be heard in two or three days.

Obviously, the defendant was much better able to afford the expense of the Patents Court than was the claimant - which was exactly why David has chosen to sue Goliath in IPEC to start with. In IPEC you accept that your damages are going to be capped at £250,000 if you win (and costs at £50,000). But that's only part of the story: an injunction might be worth a lot more to David, and cost Goliath much more dearly, so the financial cap gives a slightly misleading impression. Anyway, the damages cap is not intended to keep high-value claims out of IPEC altogether, it just means that the full value might not be realised in damages.

An injunction would, of course, be damaging to Goliath, but that did not mean that the case had to go to the Patents Court. If that court granted the injunction, it would be just as damaging. The only reason for transferring the case because of the injunction issue would be if there were a realistic risk that Goliath would be unable fully to argue against it in IPEC. The idea of making an application to a judge which basically says "we don't think your court can hear this case properly" strikes me as fundamentally unattractive, and HHJ Hacon certainly took the view that IPEC was perfectly able to deal with it so no transfer was going to happen.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Online EU trade mark infringement actionable where advertising directed

Infringement proceedings involving an EU trade mark must generally be brought before the courts of the member state in which a defendant is domiciled (Regulation 207/2009/EC, Article 97(1)). They can also be brought before the courts of the Member State “in which the act of infringement has been committed or threatened” (Article 97(5)). What happens when the defendants are a Spanish company and a Spanish individual, and the trade mark owners are British (and the exclusive licensee is an English company)? Obviously an action could be brought in Spain, but could the claimant sue in the UK on the basis of Article 97(5)??

The claimants issued proceedings for infringement in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court, on the basis that the defendants' online activities amounted to advertising or offering counterfeit goods for sale in the UK. IPEC refused to accept jurisdiction under Article 97(5), taking the view that only the courts in Spain, where steps had been taken to put the offending sign on a website, or decision to that effect had taken place, had jurisdiction under that provision. The claimants appealed, and the Court of Appeal sent the matter on an expedition to Luxembourg.

The Court of Justice ruled that Article 97(5) allowed the trade mark owner to bring infringement proceedings before an EUTM court of the Member State where the consumers or traders to whom online advertising and offers for sale were directed were located. It made no difference that took decisions and steps necessary to bring about the electronic display in another Member State.

The Court reasoned that, if Article 97(5) were interpreted otherwise, a defendant could deprive Article 97(5) of any effect by making sure that the territory where they set up their website and activated the display of their advertising and offers for sale was the same as that in which it was established.

The Court of Appeal has to decide whether the advertising and offers for sale on the website and platforms in issue were in fact targeted at UK consumers or traders. It must do so on the basis of factors such as the details about the geographical areas where the products were to be delivered.
AMS Neve Ltd and others v Heritage Audio SL and others (Case C-172/18) EU:C:2019:674

Originality requirement is the same for all works – including applied art

In a case involving the design of jeans and tee shirts, referred by the Portuguese Supreme Court, the Court of Justice has extended the scope of its Infopaq decision and held that the Euro-originality test, that a copyright work be its author’s own intellectual creation, applies to all types of copyright work including works of applied art. It is not open to Member States to protect works of applied art on the basis that they have some aesthetic appeal in addition to their utilitarian appeal.

Clothing designs will perhaps rarely pass the higher originality test. In the UK this would not be a problem, as copyright is not the most apt way to protect them: they are more properly protected by design right, and in any case s.51 should exclude the use of copyright to protect the designs except where the item of clothing is itself an artistic work – which means it only works if the garment is a work of artistic craftsmanship, which it often will be but not if it is a tee shirt, or probably a pair of jeans. But the case raises the interesting question for the UK, does the Euro-originality test apply now to design right? The courts were always clear that they were not going to invent a new originality test for design right when they could just adopt the well-established copyright one, but that was before the Court of Justice drive a coach and horses through that test in Infopaq.

The judgment, which is not yet in English, raises other important questions about EU copyright law – which almost with each passing day seems to be the way we now have to regard copyright, as based on EU directives. How the activist Court of Justice brought us to this position, developing the Information Society directive into a comprehensive harmonisation of copyright law, is another story on which a lot has already been said and much remains to say.

Case C-683/17, Cofemel – Sociedade de Vestuário SA v G Star Raw CV EU:C:2019:721 (12 September) (in French – other language versions are available)

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Copying music without knowing

The Guardian this morning reports another case in which a piece of music was held to infringe copyright in an earlier piece. It happens more and more often, it seems - as the twin evils, long identified in the trade marks world, of depletion and foreclosure insinuate themselves into copyright, albeit with changes to their form to take account of the very different subject-matter of trade mark protection.

The case in the papers today was decided in the United States, and by a jury, which means that the same will not happen here, not by the same route anyway. Katy Perry's song Dark Horse was found to have a similar beat to a piece called Joyful Noise by Flame, a Christian rapper (a new genre to me). It seems that several others were accused of infringing, too.

For copyright infringement to happen, in the USA as well as in this country (and every other country that has a copyright law, which I think is every country although in some of them the situation is a bit unclear), there has to be a nexus between the copyright work and what an infringer has produced (you can't say the infringer created it, because the whole point is that he or she hasn't, nor can you call it a work because it doesn't represent work, just appropriation). If an alleged infringer has no knowledge of the copyright work in question, there is no infringement: there is a second, similar or identical, copyright work, created independently by the defendant.

Many copyright owners don't like this situation, of course. They would rather their copyright was a true monopoly right. But copyright law is not patent law, and quite right too. Copyright doesn't protect the piece of music (or the book, or the painting) per se, but the effort that the creator put into it. So the owner of copyright in a piece of music has to show that the defendant had heard that piece. The case law tells us that it isn't necessary to show that the defendant has to recall the piece - if that were the case, a little selective amnesia would be enough to defeat any infringement claim - but merely that they have been exposed to it.

To avoid being exposed to others' music, composers will not generally listen to the recordings that they might receive from aspiring composers hoping for an endorsement (or perhaps hoping to contrive a situation in which an infringement action might lie). But in the modern world it becomes much more difficult to avoid exposure to music. When it is playing, unnecessarily, in lifts, shops, restaurants, gyms, and workplaces, it's impossible to get away from. I might have heard Dark Horse and Joyful Noise many times, quite involuntarily, but I certainly don't recall either of them. Were I a songwriter, I might well have incorporated some part of them (one or other of them) in a work of my own. And to some extent that's how music gets written, and always has been.

What strikes me as novel in this case is that sheer numbers of YouTube views seem to have raised a presumption that Katy Perry and her co-authors must have heard it. That's frightening. I might be exposed to a piece of music in the gym, however hard I try to shut it out and concentrate on my workout, and therefore become a prospective infringer.

How can this be addressed? It's right that the copyright owner should get something when another composer appropriates their hard (or even not-so-hard) work. What is needed is a narrower concept of what amounts to actionable appropriation, as well as consideration of what damages should be awarded and whether there ought to be some sort of licensing scheme to cover some types of infringing act. In the Kay Perry/Flame case, the situation is complicated by the fact that a jury made the decision that there had been an infringement, and having a jury decide matters like that doesn't appeal to me as a sound way to deal with them. Perhaps that accounts for why just taking the beat was held to be an infringement. In the name of research I have listened to the two songs on YouTube, and indeed the beats are very similar, although they are also pretty mundane and I wonder where Flame's came from in the first place. A rigorous analysis of the originality of the claimed work would be the starting point for a more rational approach to questions of infringement.

Another important difference between UK and US copyright law is that while the UK law considers the originality of a work as a whole, US copyright law is more inclined to take the work apart and look for originality in its components. Here, it seems to me quite likely that an English judge, asked to consider the two, might remark that the beats sounded similar but that the two songs as a whole were so completely different that the similarities could not be considered substantial. Perhaps it's not a problem that would ever come to court in this country, but the fact is that US copyright casts its shadow over the whole world and we need to take care always to distinguish what goes on there from our own approach.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Commodities, commodification, commoditization and intellectual property laws

In a piece in The Guardian today, Anish Kapoor is quoted as saying: "Only poetry and the more serious classical music seem able to resist becoming commodities." He admits that he has benefitted from "neo-liberalist commodification", and indeed few artists can have done as well as him out of it, but even so he doesn't make it sound like a good thing. Which I guess he doesn't think it is.

Commodification is not a necessary consequence of copyright (or more generally intellectual property) protection. What the world of commerce needs is proprietary rights:
The merchant must have property in the things in which he trades, his rights to that property must be identifiable, When he sells an article he must be able to assure the buyer that the things is his to sell; he must be able to prove his property in it, if he is challenged. (Hicks, A Theory of Economic History, OUP, 1969, p.34).
It is true as much for intangibles as for tangible things. Argubly, a far-reaching law prohibiting unfair competition could do the job of all IP laws, but giving them the status of property rights probably makes them much more useful - much more tradeable, and available for use as security - than a mere right of action against an unfair competitor would be.

So, to make intellectual property tradeable it is commodified - turned into objects of trade. "Commodification" is a term used in Marxist theory, where it denotes the process of giving an economic value to something that it didn't have already, by producing it and presenting it for sale rather than just consuming it oneself. It's different from commoditization, which is a term found in business literature to denote the process by which goods that have economic value and can be distinguished by their attributes - their uniqueness or brand - become simple commodities in the eyes of the market or consumers. Here, the meaning of "commodities" is somewhat different from the Marxian one: the word denotes goods that have full or substantial fungibility (a great word), meaning that the market doesn't care who produced them, as one person's commodities are much the same as another person's.

So it seems to me that commodification is an essential result, or perhaps a goal, of copyright protection, whereas commoditization is what intellectual property laws (trade marks probably play a more important role here than copyright) are designed to prevent. Kapoor can earn a living (a very good one, I imagine) because his work is commodified, but it would be incorrect to consider his creations as commodities because they are readily distinguishable from the works of other artists. Ineed, I can see an argument for saying that anything that can be labelled a commodity in the second sense mentioned above should not receive any form of protection from intellectual property laws (by which I mean, in the trade marks field, that purely descriptive or non-distinctive trade marks like BREAD for bread must not be registrable, not that bakers should be denied access to the trade marks system altogether).

This is an aspect of intellectual property law about which I am developing my thoughts, so please excuse any half-bakedness in this posting. Any comments would be gratefully received.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Spare Rib archive threatened by B****t

I was surprised when I read about this today in the Guardian. Why should the British Library's digital archive of the celebrated feminist magazine have any problems arising from the impact on the orphan works directive of B****t?

My first thought was that the Directive (implemented in s.44B and Sched.ZA1 of the 1988 Act) must surely remain part of UK law. But (according to its website) the BL has been advised by the soi-disant Intellecual Property Office that the "legal exception" (properly, permitted act) would no longer apply. Which makes me ask, what is the BL doing taking legal advice from there? Don't they have lawyers (with insurance)? Given the extent to which the BL works with copyright (all the time), I would have thought the advice should have been flowing, if at all, in the opposite direction.

Thanks to Eoin O'Dell's Cearta blog I have now looked at the draft Intellectual Property (Copyright and Related Rights) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 (pdf) and their Explanatory Memorandum (pdf). I am astonished to see that the government plans to throw the baby out with the bathwater, repealing (or "omitting", as the legislation says - is that another example of B****t Newspeak?) section 44B which is the permitted act, along with Schedule ZA1 (and I do think that with a title like that it probably deserves something, though I'm not sure repeal is called for).

Is the real problem that the right to issue copies etc across the EU will be lost (and as the archive is online it is available, presumably, EU-wide)? Would geo-blocking help (but if it would, is it acceptable)? The BL won't be able to add anything to the EUIPO database, but if it has published stuff in reliance on the fact that it was in the database then it seems to have complied with para 5 of Sched. ZA1 and I don't see anything to require it to refresh its due diligence. It looks as if Cultural Heritage Institutions in the UK will no longer be able to look at the EUIPO database (which seems a bit miserly) so in future it would be impossible to comply with para 5: but that doesn't have to destroy the legal basis for the Spare Rib archive.

The domestic licensing scheme (s.116A and SI 2014/2863) might help but seems too limited, and expensive, so I am disregarding it as a practical alternative. I will however note that the SI is being amended to remove references to the EU database - which as the Regulations stand is an essential component of a diligent search. Well, of course this has to be done, but why couldn't the same approach be taken to the permitted act?

The answer is, I guess, that there was always a certain amount of tension between the UK's licensing approach and the Directive's permitted act approach - described by Eleonora Rosati in this paper and by the IPKat, 22 November 2013. Eleonora suggested that the UK law was incompatible with the directive, the Infosoc directive, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, and even the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is a pretty comprehensive charge sheet. On that basis, I can imagine that the UK government was content to see the back of the EU orphan works scheme: in the orphan works sphere, the UK had been taking back control since 2013. So following B*****t orphan works will be subject to the IPO-operated licensing scheme, and the BL and others (a wider range of others than under the Directive) can pay for the privilege of using orphan works.

Of course we have to respect the will of the so-called majority (including, I am pretty confident, no readers of Spare Rib) who voted to trash all the hard work that has gone into this.

Numbering of "comparable" UK trade marks

The UK-only trade marks that will, if leaving the EU ever becomes a reality, be carved out of existing EU trade marks are being called "comparable" trade marks. It seems like an odd choice of word, but compared with the madness that is Brexit this is a minor quibble. The Patent Office has published a notice about how these will be numbered:
In order to identify comparable UK rights and distinguish them from existing UK trade marks, the number allocated to the comparable mark will be the last 8 digits of the EUTMprefixed with UK009.
The following examples show how comparable UK trade marks will be numbered:
Existing EU trade markComparable UK trade mark
By retaining the EUTM number, we aim to keep the administrative process to a minimum.
Of course the best way to "keep the administrative process to a minimum" (let's read that as if it had the word "burden" in place of "process" - one does not keep processes to a minimum, and in any case it is surely more accurate to say it's as small as possible, not a minimum) would be to stop the nonsense altogether, but our Prime Minister is clearly dead set on it. As a numbering scheme this makes sense and is pretty simple - it reminds me of how when the 1994 Act came into operation the Registry started with number 2,000,000, which meant losing only a few numbers but provided a nice easy way to recognise "new Act" trade marks.

I wonder what will happen to comparable UK trade marks when the country rejoins the EU in a few years' time? Is the government planning for that contingency yet?

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Book review: Copyright Law and Derivative Works by Omri Rachum-Twaig

Calling a work "derivative" is not a compliment, but there has been a tendency (since at least the Gowers Review) to consider the way that copyright laws treat derivative works as too restrictive. The author's starting point is the proposition that copyright regulates creativity: indeed, "regulating creativity" appears as a sub-title on the front cover. It seems to me that exploring creativity through the prism of derivative works is the wrong starting point, but I don't think it detracts from this fascinating and important book.
It seems customary these days to explain that one has been given a review copy of a book, so let me start by stating (though it seems pretty obvious to me) that I have been given a review copy of this book, published recently by Routledge at the eye-watering price of £115 - that being the main reason that declaring the gift of a review copy is surely redundant. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's worth £115 of anybody's money, but it will be worth that much of some people's money, and it is a very interesting not-so-little (190 pages of real text) monograph, not padded out with lots of front- and back-matter.
After considering matters of quantum, always the first thing I notice about a book, I start to wonder about the author. He is, the book tells me, an adjunct professor of law at the University of Tel Aviv. The Internet tells me more, and I was particularly interested to read that his first degree is a Bachelor of Music and that he has had an impressive orchestral career already. That might have been his route into copyright law, but if it was it doesn't show in this book, and I found that slightly disappointing: but it doesn't claim to be a book about music copyright, so my disappointment is probably misplaced anyway.
The work, my reservations about the focus on derivative works notwithstanding, is an exploration of how well copyright understands creativity, compared with other fields of study: so, despite the title, it is quite light on black-letter copyright law - and more interesting for it, IMHO. It uses derivative works to inform its discussion of creativity, considering whether the law's treatment of the right to make derivative works (and its inclusion, generally, in the bundle of exclusive rights that the copyright owner enjoys) is compatible with what other disciplines teach us. The author examines the cognitive aspects of creativity before going on to look at genre theories (with an interesting discussion of how Sherlock Holmes derives from the work of Edgar Allen Poe) and the justifications for what he calls the "derivative works right", though I am not convinced of the need to identify it as a distinct instance of copyright protection - reproduction right ought to do the job.
But perhaps that remark just shows me to be unsympathetic to the argument that copyright, in the interest of encouraging creativity, should be more liberal in its treatment of derivative works: surely "derivative" is the opposite of "creative" or "original", and where a later creator wants to use another's copyright material it is a transaction that should be resolved by licensing, not by permitting otherwise infringing acts. A transformative work is another matter, and to my mind copyright should be encouraging the creation of such works rather than engaging in a sterile argument about creating space to make derivative works, space which already exists and is regulated by the requirement that making them requires the copyright owner.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Crown use as a solution to drug costs

There's nothing new about controversy over the cost to the NHS of patented pharmaceuticals. It's inherent in the patent system that patentees who invest possibly eye-watering amounts of money in devising inventions will want to use their monopoly rights to recover that investment and gain a return on it.

Today The Observer reports on a novel solution to the sometimes terrible problems that can arise when drugs are available to treat life-threatening conditions but the price is out of reach. Mechanisms are in place to try to ensure that the NHS is not charged excessively for new drugs, but they have failed to close the gap between what the NHS can afford and what the patentee wants (£105,000 per patient) in this case. The mooted solution is to use the Crown use provisions of the Patents Act 1977, under which the patentee will receive a modest royalty. Section 55 actually uses the expression "for services of the Crown", but section 56(2) specifically includes "the production or supply of specified drugs and medicines" within "the services of the Crown", making it a surprisingly wide concept.

I don't recall section 55 being invoked very often, and while the facts as narrated by The Observer are rather thin - it concentrates on the undoubted human interest aspects - this certainly looks like an interesting departure in patent law. I hope above all else that a solution can be reached that delivers what the unfortunate patients need.

Monday, 21 January 2019

New podcasts

I have had a break of a few years from podcasting, for various reasons. I hope you will have seen the IPso Jure YouTube channel (link on the right hand side bar) which I started up a few months ago, on which I plan to publish some basic material including a lot of stuff for law students (such as how to answer exam questions) as well as practitioners.

Today I have relaunched my podcasts with a production about the reform of UK trade mark law which came into effect on 14 January this year. It's about 40 minutes long and I am selling copies for £1 each. I will soon be recording a monthly update podcast (like I used to do a few years ago) and selling that too. You can get your copy here. You can also download the accompanying slides here.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The effect of a "no-deal" departure from the EU

Yesterday's vote in the House of Commons, a record-breaking defeat for a government, leaves us with no clearer idea of what might happen at the end of March. By default, according to the law as it stands, we leave the EU on 29 March, and as there is no withdrawal agreement we will leave with nothing to govern our relationship with the EU. The chances of that changing are fairly good, given that Parliament (which is trying to wrest control of the process from the government - ironic, given that "taking back control" was supposedly at the heart of the whole idea of leaving the EU) has put in place provisions that make it pretty well impossible to crash out without a deal.

The most likely alternatives at present seem to be an extension beyond 29 March of the notice period given under Article 50 TFEU, or withdrawal of that notice (which the Court of Justice has kindly indicated can be done unilaterally, although only if it is in good faith - that is, not simply to delay matters). Neither of those requires consideration at present, because the status quo would be preserved.

The government has published guidance on what will happen in a variety of areas if there is no deal. One of its briefings concerns trade marks and designs. Originally these documents said that a "no-deal" withdrawal was unlikely: more recent editions seem to lack that reassurance. Ho hum. Although it does say: "We expect to negotiate a successful deal with the EU."

Of particular interest to trade mark and registered design owners is what will be the effect of their EU trade marks if no deal is reached. After all, for years they have been encouraged to believe that all they needed was protection at the EU level and many allowed their UK national rights to fall away, to save renewal fees. The answer is:
The government will ensure that the property rights in all existing registered EU trade marks and registered Community designs will continue to be protected and to be enforceable in the UK by providing an equivalent trade mark or design registered in the UK.
Note that this says nothing about charges. Under the draft withdrawal agreement, there would have been no charge for this: will the government be able to resist an opportunity to raise some revenue, especially when so much would come from foreign companies? Perhaps the financial arrangements of the Patent Office (or Intellectual Property Office as it prefers to be called) remove any attraction to this course of action - it might not benefit the Treasury.
Right holders with an existing EU trade mark or registered Community design will have a new UK equivalent right granted that will come into force at the point of the UK’s exit from the EU. The new UK right will be provided with minimal administrative burden. The trade mark or design will then be treated as if it had been applied for and registered under UK law.
And if a new corresponding trade mark has not been used in the UK in the past five years - will it immediately be liable to revocation? Will the proprietor be able to rely on the reputation acquired by the trade mark in other EU countries, when suing an infringer in the UK? The rejected withdrawal agreement dealt with these points, but the guidance says nothing. Logically, leaving the EU should mean that the new trade mark's past counts for nothing - the five year non-use period should start from scratch, and any reputation acquired elsewhere in the EU should be irrelevant.
This means that these trade marks and designs:
  • will be subject to renewal in the UK
  • can form the basis for proceedings before the UK Courts and the Intellectual Property Office’s Tribunal
  • can be assigned and licensed independently from the EU right
No surprise there.
After exit, business, organisations and individuals with EU trade mark and Community design applications which are ongoing at the date of exit will be able to refile with the Intellectual Property Office under the same terms for a UK equivalent right, using the normal application process for registered trade marks and registered designs in the UK.
Was that even worth saying?
This means that for a period of 9 months from exit, the government will recognise filing dates and claims to earlier priority and UK seniority recorded on the corresponding EU application. Right holders taking this step will need to meet the cost of refiling the application in accordance with the UK application fee structure.
 Does this actually follow? I would have thought that if the normal application process were followed there would be a 12-month priority period, although seniority (being a pecularily EU thing) is a different matter. Anyway, this "special priority period" could be useful for applications for EU rights outstanding on the key date (29 March 2019 or such other date as might emerge) because it could enable an applicant whose EU application is opposed to salvage UK protection while retaining the priority date.
These same provisions will apply to international registrations designating the EU filed with the World Intellectual Property Organisation. This ensures that there is continued protection in the UK from March 2019 onwards for trade marks and registered designs (filed through the Madrid and Hague Systems, and designating the EU as the area where they apply).
That seems reasonable, if "reasonable" is a word that can be used in connection with any of this.

Two other points are worth mentioning: first, without an agreement to govern withdrawal the rights of UK lawyers to represent clients before the EUIPO will be in the gift of the European Union rather than based on a sound legal right; and second, EU TM owners might need to find themselves an address for service in the "residual" EU after the UK leaves. More headaches for small businesses.

You might find it useful to listen to this presentation which I published a while ago on the IPso Jure YouTube channel, although it is now to be treated with care!

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Purposive construction

A little while ago, I illustrated the concept of a transformative copyright work by referring to what Rachmaninov did to Pagannini's Caprice no 24. A little while? It was October 2017. Now another illustration of an important aspect of intellectual property law from the world of music has come along.

This time my inspiration came from Record Review on BBC Radio 3 a few weeks ago (on 14 December 2018, to be precise - if you go to the Radio 3 website you might still be able to find the programme, perhaps in the podcast version). The work being reviewed was Richard Strauss's Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche. It's a piece I came to love when I was still at school (the horn solo particularly appealed), and the three boxed set of LPs of Strauss's Orchestral Works by Kempe and the Dresden Staatskappelle were quite an early part of my record collection. But I digress, as usual.

About 17 minutes and 20 seconds into the podcast, the reviewer (the composer William Mival) is considering the 1959 recording by the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein - another of my favourite musicians. "Bernstein even adds in detail that isn't in Strauss's score", he tells us. "A snap or Bartok pizzicato in the double basses right at the end of the market scene just before till rides off into the far distance. It means that the string is plucked with so much force that it rebounds against the fingerboard producing a distinctive crack. This kind of addition is of course typical of Bernstein who would often be far more interested in the spirit of the written score rather than the literal instructions on the page."

That neatly brings together two memorable events from my first term at University, back in 1974: the opening of the new arts centre, when honorary degrees were conferred on Peggy Ashcroft, Eurgene Ionescu, Michael Tippett and Leonard Bernstein, and one of the earliest concerts there given by the Amadeus String Quartet, which included a Bartok quartet from which I learnt about that pizzicato. But again, I digress.

Thanks to YouTube, I can direct you to exactly the right moment in Lennie's recording. But how does this relate to intellectual property law? Less well than it would have done a few years ago, I admit, but it's still relevant. Ever since Lord Diplcok's speech in Catnic v Hill & Smith [1981] FSR 60, [1982] RPC 183 (HL) we have been familiar with the idea of a purposive approach to interpreting patent claims - considering what the applicant had in mind, the spirit of the claims, rather than the precise words used. And although the way the courts approach patent claim interpretation now has developed from that starting point, the idea of a purposive approach remains important. Modern claim interpretation, I suppose, can be said to date from the moment Lord Diplock chose to seek out the purpose of the claims rather than fixating on the words - a departure which I do not believe is an unalloyed good thing, but who am I to criticise the noble Lord and his colleagues? Suffice to say (for the time being) that to my mind the purposive approach works far better in musical performances than in patent litigation.

Happily, the outcome of the review of the available recordings was that the Kempe version which I have owned for about 45 years came out well ahead of the rest. Although I do like the Bernstein ...

Monday, 14 January 2019

Revised Trade Marks Act: generic use in dictionaries

Today is the day the revised Trade Marks Act 1994 comes into operation. The changes have been brought about by the Trade Marks Regulations 2018 (SI No 825), and implement the EU directive 2015/2436. My friend Jane Lambert has written about it on her NIPClaw blog so I don't feel the need to deal with it all - although I am preparing a recorded lecture. But one provision does strike me particularly.

New section 99A implements Article 12 of the Directive, which deals with the inclusion of a trade mark in a dictionary, encyclopedia or other work of reference so as to give the impression that it is the generic name for the product or servicefor which it is registered. Hoover, for example, should be described as a trade mark for vacuum cleaners - which is exactly what my Bloomsbury Concise English Dictionary does (except that it adopts the American convention of joining the words "trade" and "mark").

The Directive, unhelpfully, prescribes no mechanism for enforcing this right, saying only that the proprietor has the right to request the publisher to put matters right, and that this must be done without delay and certainly in the next edition if the work is a printed on. The Act allows the court, on the proprietor's application, to order compliance, to order erasure or amendment or even destruction, and to grant such other order as the court considers appropriate.

So the proprietor of a vulnerable trade mark has new and valuable protection against genericide. But I realised over the weekend that this is not enough. That dawned on me in the course of solving the Financial Times prize crossword, which tested me with 23 down: "Starts to loot your store of lavatory disinfectant (5)". I had never heard of LYSOL*, but it's the subject of a couple of hundred trade marks around the world owned by Reckitt Benckiser including several EU ones and 3359242 filed last month (313061, from 1909, having died) - the proprietor obviously taking steps to protect itself after 29 March 2019.

I don't like this, though my old friend and fellow cruciverbalist Bob Cumbow of Miller Nash Graham and Dunn LLC, with whom I colaborate on the FT puzzle each weekend, tells me it is fairly common in US puzzles: and he pointed out that the solution to 2 down, "Utter tosh about US estate agent", was also a trade mark: REALTOR ("real" for "utter", "rot" for "tosh", reversed). In fact it belongs to the National Association of Realtors, so it seems to be functioning as a sort of collective or certification mark, so I learnt something new from the exercise, but more importantly it occurred to me that s.99A gives no protection against this important sub-type of genericide. Should it? Or does the law go as far as one might reasonably expect? I should have been writing this when the government (through the agency of the IPO) consulted on the implementation of the new directive. Maybe next time.

*You probably don't need this, but "Starts to ..." is a pretty clear direction to make a word out of the initial letters of what follows.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Independent garage defeats manufacturer's trade mark application

Thanks to Jane Lambert and her NIPC Law blog for drawing my attention to Jaguar Land Rover Ltd v Twisted Automotive Ltd [2018] EWHC 3536 (Ch) (20 December 2018) which is a judgment of Rose J in an appeal against the 15 May 2018 (O-289-18) decision of Ms Louise White acting for the Registrar of Trade Marks. In her decision, Ms White upheld the opposition by the Respondent to the registration by the Appellant of the trademark "LR" (except for bicycles and scooters and related goods): and in her judgment Rose J dismissed the appeal. Quite right too, IMHO, although on the facts it could be a pretty close-run thing.

Twisted, who trade as specialists in Land-Rover Defender vehicles, parts and services, had no registered trade mark, so they had to rely on section 5(4)(a) of the Trade Marks Act 1994 - which in essence required them to show that they could have succeeded in a passing-off action. The main reason that I think it might have been a close-run thing was that their use only goes back to November 2015, and although the point did not detain the learned judge the appellant pointed out that the date on which the strength of the respondent's goodwill had to be measured was the application date - 23 August 2016.

JLR put forward the interesting argument that their use of the sign LR would not be a misrepresentation, because the respondent was indeed dealing in Land-Rover products. Remember that what was at issue was not (as is usually the case when manufacturers sue independent repairers) whether the respondent could use the sign, but whether the appellant could be allowed to register it. JLR were, in a sense, too late: unless the Hearing Officer had got it very wrong (a gross over-simplification of the principles set out by Arnold J in Apple Inc v Arcadia Trading Limited [2017] EWHC 440 (Ch)) an appeal court cannot interfere, and anyway JLR's assertion that the sign would be recognised as identifying their business was just that, an assertion, unsupported by evidence. In fact, JLR had never used the sign at all. The learned judge saw no reason to interfere with the Hearing Officer's decision.

While on the face of it you might not expect such a short period of trading under the sign to create enough goodwill for a passing-off action to succeed, that didn't influence the outcome of the case. And actually in my view there could well have been enough goodwill. If (as the Mullers Margarine case tells us) goodwill is the attractive force that brings in custom, you have to take the customers as you find them. Land-Rover Defenders are specialist vehicles. Indeed, Land-Rover don't make mass-market vehicles at all, but I think there is a distinction to be drawn between its Range Rover, Discovery and Freelander ranges and the utilitarian Defender, developed from the original Land-Rover which required no fancy model name - indeed, had nothing remotely fancy about it and often attracted the adjective "agricultural", which was always meant in a good way. No-one buys a Defender as an ordinary family run-around: it is designed to do a particular job, which it does very well, and if you don't want a vehicle to do that you won't buy one. Simple. As I remarked in a slightly different context - in 2013, though it seems like only yesterday - not all car owners are the same. In that earlier post I was considering Porsche owners, but (while there might be little overlap with Defender owners) the same principle applies. We are talking about enthusiasts. "Petrolheads" might not be the right word, given that Defenders often have diesel engines, but you get my drift, don't you?

While the owner of a bog standard cooking family saloon or hatchback might not bother to understand the intricacies of the motor trade - distinguishing between manufacturer and dealer, and between authorised repairer and independent - and indeed these days might not even own their car but just lease it, we should not assume that enthusiasts are the same. They buy a Defender (or a Porsche, or whatever), not mobility. When they look for specialist services, or parts or accessories, they are quite likely to trust independent experts rather than authorised dealers.

It's a fact of life that authorised workshops only usually get to see cars under three years old. Once they reach MoT age they tend to become the preserve of independent garages. Maintenance contracts, personal leases and warranties might all contribute to extending that period of exclusivity, but as a rule the buyer of a secondhand car isn't as likely to entrust it to the authorised workshops for servicing and repair. They often cost more - sometimes a great deal more - and their up-to-date knowledge isn't particularly important if you don't have an up-to-date car. The last Defender (apart from a limited edition for the 70th anniversary in 2018 - only 150 examples) was made nearly three years ago, so Land-Rover dealers will be seeing less and less of them anyway: owners will be aware of the independent sector, and to keep their running costs proportionate to the value of their vehicle they will be inclined to use it.

Enthusiasts, such as Defender owners, should be assumed to know the value of the independent sector and to understand the differences between it and the franchised motor trade. So while this isn't how Rose J reached her decision (neither is it how the Hearing Officer Ms Louise White reached hers), I think it demonstrates that the decisions were absolutely right.

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