The Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (IPEC) is a specialist list within the Business and Property Courts of England and Wales, dealing with intellectual property (IP) disputes, including registered designs, patents, trade marks, copyright and misuse of confidential information. It is intended to provide a cost effective forum to hear IP claims, particularly (but not exclusively) those brought or defended by SMEs. IPEC hears claims where the financial relief sought is not more than £500,000 and the trial itself is not expected to last more than 2 days. In an effort to ensure that costs remain proportionate and parties remain focused on the key issues in the claim, the costs that the winning party can recover from its opponent are capped at £50,000.
The process of bringing or defending a claim in IPEC is similar to other court claims, although there is more active judicial case management throughout – a named judge is usually assigned to the case at the outset and will deal with all applications and hearings. Parties are expected to set their case out fully at the start, to allow all of the parties to focus on the key issues. As one would expect with a short trial and fixed costs, the provision of expert and witness evidence is carefully controlled. In addition, timescales can only be extended with the consent of the court so the dragging out of claims is less likely than may perhaps be the case in other courts – this can be of key importance in IP cases where often the primary relief sought is declaratory or injunctive relief.
We have found IPEC to be an excellent forum for dealing with IP disputes encountered by SMEs. The costs capping provisions and the active case management are reassuring for smaller businesses, which can bring or defend IP claims in IPEC secure in the knowledge that there is generally a maximum costs exposure for them if the case does not go their way. This is evidenced by the number of IP claims being issued in IPEC, which are increasing at a steeper rate than currently seen in other courts (a 55% increase in issued claims in IPEC in 2010/2011 following the introduction of the costs and damages cap, as opposed to an increase of just 12% in IP claims issued in the Patents Court or other divisions of the High Court*).
*Evaluation of the Reforms of the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court 2010 – 2013, Helmers, Lefouili and McDonagh, 22 June 2015.