With the economy of the West Midlands predicted to continue outperforming much of the rest of the country, there’s never been a better time for entrepreneurs and SMEs across the region. Key to building a sustainable and investable business is intellectual property (IP).

IP comes in many forms, from patents which protect new technology to trade marks which protect brand value.

While every business will have its own IP needs, it is also the case that every business needs IP. Without IP, the hard-won value created by a leading brand or a successful invention can be exploited freely by a competitor.

A recent case in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (IPEC) illustrates the importance of IP to businesses in our region.

This case involved a trade mark dispute between a company based in Thurnby, Leicestershire and the Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health NHS Trust. The company prevailed, with the court finding that its trade mark had been infringed by the NHS trust.

While this case is interesting, the real interest here is in the fact that the trial was held in Birmingham.

This is the first time that the IPEC has heard a case outside London, and it is testament not only to the rude health of business in the West Midlands (2018 saw more than 12,000 business start-ups across Birmingham) but also to the Court’s role in broadening access to justice for SMEs.

Indeed, the judge in this case remarked the following: "The parties in this case asked for it to be heard in Birmingham for their convenience and the court was able to accommodate that request.

"I do not know why it has taken so long, but I hope that it is the first of many IPEC trials to be heard elsewhere in England and Wales."

Philip Cupitt, Chartered (UK) and European Patent Attorney, Marks & Clerk

Enforcing intellectual property rights in the IPEC is a much cheaper alternative to doing so in the mainstream High Court.

As such, the IPEC is an attractive option for smaller scale IP disputes, such as cases of copyright and trade mark infringement, or patent disputes involving the sort of technologies that are central to numerous manufacturing businesses across the West Midlands.

Thanks to the IPEC, SMEs need not be discouraged from obtaining patents and trade marks by the fear that it will be too costly to enforce those rights against competitors.

Building a business is a financial balancing act and unexpected setbacks – such as a competitor infringing your intellectual property rights – can be difficult for a start-up or SME to manage.

When businesses do find their IP has been infringed, the decision to take legal action is not made lightly and it is incumbent upon the whole legal system to ensure that it’s not just the big players who have recourse to justice.

The Intellectual Property Enterprise Court, and its willingness to hold trials outside London, is a significant step forward.

It reduces costs and simplifies logistics for those looking to defend their IP, and makes a difficult situation easier to bear for the entrepreneurs, start-ups and established businesses that are fuelling the Midlands Engine.

Philip Cupitt

Chartered (UK) and European Patent Attorney

T: 0121 643 5881

E:   pcupitt@marks-clerk.com

Marks & Clerk