Author: Hazel Ford Ph.D., Paul Roscoe
Editor: Adriana L. Burgy
Provisions exist in the United Kingdom to prevent unjustified threats of legal action relating to infringement of patents, designs and trademarks. The provisions were originally conceived with the intention of stopping the holder of an IP right from damaging a person’s business by threatening their customers or distributors with an infringement action of the IP right. The current provisions, however, are inconsistent across different forms of intellectual property and are worded such that an innocuous communication from an IP rights holder may be interpreted as an actionable threat. This results in an increased risk of litigation proceedings between the parties. This is contrary to the overriding principle enshrined in the UK’s Civil Procedure Rules, which encourage pre-action correspondence and negotiation in order to ensure that disputes are dealt with at proportionate cost.
The UK’s government issued a draft Bill setting out proposals to address some of these issues. The Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Bill 2016 would update legislation relating to unjustified threats to provide greater consistency and clarity.
For example, the Bill proposes positive definitions for “permitted communications” to provide a safe harbor to allow rights holders to communicate with potential infringers, without running the risk of a threats action. In this way, parties should find it easier to comply with the Civil Procedure Rules by exchanging information prior to the start of any litigation.