102 years and counting
One more leg of the long-running trade mark dispute between Budejovicky Budvar and Anheuser-Busch is over. The two brewers have been fighting over the marks Bud and Budweiser for over 100 years, with disputes everywhere from Japan to Bulgaria, Argentina to Germany. The UK branch was always unique, however, with the High Court ruling back in 2000 that both marks could exist based on honest concurrent use. The Court of Appeal upheld that decision following a reference to the Court of Justice of the EU, and now the Supreme Court has refused permission to appeal. Still, there are at least 50 disputes and procedural issues around the world still going on between the two parties, so the battle has some legs yet.
Top 10 patent cases
Thanks to law firm Bristows for a through seminar on patent developments this morning. As well as sessions on the unitary patent and SPC cases, this included a countdown of the top-10 UK cases of 2012. (Number 1, I’m sure you will want to know, was Merck v Teva, a decision on injunctions, just seeing off Actavis v Lilly, on jurisdiction.) But the statistics presented by the speakers were also a reminder of the pyramid economics of UK litigation. Last year there were just 17 patent trials held and 82 reported decisions in England & Wales (some cases have multiple decisions). This paltry number sustains about five judges, a few dozen barristers and probably over 150 solicitors. Of course a lot happens behind the scenes, and many cases don’t make trial, but as we all look towards the EU unified patent court, it’s a reminder of how business in countries such as the UK and Germany diverges.
Never give up
Among the cases discussed at today’s seminar were Servier v Apotex and HGS v Eli Lilly. Though neither has lasted quite the 100 years of the Bud dispute, both are becoming epics – the former is being heard by the UK Supreme Court later this year and the latter may also head there, for a second time. Some IP disputes just refuse to die. Speaking of which, the Washington Redskins are back in the news: the New York Post reports last week’s USPTO hearing brought by activists who say the franchise’s name (and trade mark) disparage Native American communities. If you think we’ve been here before, you’d be right: the trade mark was revoked in 1999, but later reinstated. In true tabloid newspaper tradition, the Post fears a victory for the activists could be the thin end of the wedge.
Members of the UK’s House of Lords have once again clashed over the proper level of copyright protection that should exist in the UK (live BBC video). During a debate over an amendment to extend copyright protection as part of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, Labour peer Baroness Whitaker, a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said the UK has become a “safe haven” for the sale of replicas of designs that breach copyright because designed cannot protect their work adequately. But her Labour Party colleague Lord Howarth of Newport disagreed, saying “the effect of [the amendment] is to perpetuate monopolies” and it would mean prices are “artificially high, preventing ordinary people having beautiful things”. The amendment was later withdrawn. The debate follows a similarly lively discussion on copyright by the House of Lords earlier this year. Former Labour government minister Estelle Morris, now Baroness Morris of Yardley, told fellow peers “all is not right and all is not well so far as concerns protecting intellectual property”.
Three teasers from Barcelona
I spent Thursday and Friday at the MARQUES Team meetings in Barcelona, where there was lots of news to catch up on. Part of the pleasure of these kinds of events is of course meeting old (and not-so-old) acquaintances, and however well you think you know people, they can always surprise you. Here are three examples: Which well-known trade mark practitioner used to be a stewardess with Air Canada? Which INTA Board Member recently worked out in an LA gym with Hugh Jackman? And which MARQUES Team enjoyed a selection of Spanish wine, Manchego cheese and Serrano ham (pictured) at its meeting in Barcelona? Answers tomorrow.