Academic inventors and investors: an eternal story

I thought this article deserved another outing; it is timeless.

IP Draughts

Click here to visit the home page of the KCL Institute of Telecommunications Click here to visit the home page of the KCL Institute of Telecommunications

W is a professor at King’s College London, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and a prolific inventor.  He has developed a new telecommunications technology in collaboration with C, who is a businessman and former army officer.  W has demonstrated the effectiveness of his technology with a working installation that he has set up to transfer data between central London and a point approximately 20 miles to the West.  The installation proves conclusively both that it is possible to transfer data over this distance in a novel way and that there is a public appetite for the technology.

There is no reason why the technology could not be applied in a similar way over much longer distances.  The advantages over existing technologies are great, and there is a large, potential market.  W’s technology is well protected with…

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The burning issue for IP lawyers

ucl-lawsIP Draughts and his colleagues are putting together the final programme for this year’s outing of the week-long course, IP Transactions: Law and Practice, which will be held at University College London from 3-7 April 2017. This will the fifth year that the course has been run.

As part of a refresh of the course, we are replacing a few of the sessions, and revising some others. As a result we have a 30 minute slot at 4.30 pm on Wednesday 5 April, that has not yet been filled.

burning-bushReaders of IP Draughts are creative, thoughtful, intelligent people, with their fingers on the pulse of what is important and topical in the worlds of IP transactions. So, what would you suggest for this slot? Is there a burning issue that IP transactional lawyers should be familiar with? Assume that the rest of the course deals with conventional subjects like IP and contract laws, IP contract drafting, practice in different sectors, etc.

If no-one comes up with a better solution, IP Draughts may have to fall back on discussing the implications of Brexit, including the importance of not making politically naive comments in a public forum.

drafting-book-4th-ednThe provider of the best answer (either on this blog or provided privately), as judged by IP Draughts, will receive a free copy of our latest publication, Drafting and Negotiating Commercial Contracts (Anderson and Warner, 4th edition, December 2016, Bloomsbury Professional Publishing, 378 pages).

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Post-Brexit trade policy and UK IP

12-stepsPlease don’t confuse UK IP with UKIP! They are not the same thing, at all.

This blog recently commented on the UK Prime Minister’s 12 point plan for Brexit. IP Draughts tried to find clues as to future policy on international IP protection. They were not easy to find.

The Government’s White Paper, The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union, was published last week. Running to 75 pages (plus forewords), its stated purpose is to “set out the basis for these 12 priorities and the broad strategy that unites them in forging a new strategic partnership between the United Kingdom and the EU”. One might expect that it would provide more detail on the Government’s approach to IP and other international trade issues.

References to IP

There are several explicit and implicit references to IP in the White Paper.

Cross-cutting regulations

8.36 A range of cross-cutting regulations underpin the provision and high standards of goods and services, maintaining a positive environment for businesses, investors and consumers. For example, a common competition and consumer protection framework deals with mergers, monopolies and anti-competitive activity and unfair trading within the EU on a consistent basis, and EU-wide systems facilitate the protection of intellectual property.
8.37 As we leave the EU, the Government is committed to making the UK the best place in the world to do business. This will mean fostering a high quality, stable and predictable regulatory environment, whilst also actively taking opportunities to reduce the cost of unnecessary regulation and to support innovative business models.

A global leader in international collaboration

10.12 One of the UK’s key strengths in research is international collaboration: 47.6 per cent of UK articles in 2012 were internationally co-authored – a share that has been increasing.90 With just 3.2 per cent of global research and development expenditure, the UK accounts for 6.4 per cent of articles and 15.9 per cent of the world’s most highly-cited articles. The UK also exported over £11 billion of intellectual property globally in 2015. [Reference: ONS Pink Book 2016, July 2016.]

10.14 As we exit the EU, we would welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research and technology initiatives.

[emphasis added]

The White Paper also includes a table that illustrates the export of services from the UK to the EU, and has a line item for IP showing £4 billion of exports of IP. (IP Draughts has no idea what this figure means, but it looks impressive, and this alone should help to focus the Government’s mind on IP issues.)

The above references to IP have a slight air of being an afterthought – tacked on to the most relevant paragraphs of the White Paper, as if the Government felt it should mention IP but hadn’t really formed its ideas on what to do about it. Is IP part of the cumbersome EU regulatory system, to be made better once the UK leaves the EU, or a valuable export asset to the EU that sits with the UK’s success in international R&D, and where continuing cooperation with the EU is to be encouraged?

There is a sense of non-sequitur, perhaps caused by this tacking on. The EU regulatory system for IP seems to be considered beneficial in paragraph 8.36 above, but paragraph 8.37 seems to suggest that the UK will be better off without EU regulations.

By contrast, the above references to exports of IP seem to suggest a more positive attitude to cooperation with the EU, post-Brexit.

In IP Draughts’ view, it would be better to think of IP as an asset that helps to protect and support the UK’s trade, rather than as a regulatory burden or asset class in its own right. Other parts of the White Paper focus on the importance of various trade sectors to the UK economy but give little clue as to the shape of any future cooperation between the UK and the EU in relation to trade.

Ending the jurisdiction of the CJEU

What can't be curia'd must be endur'iad

What can’t be curia’d must be endur’iad

The Prime Minister has been very clear about ending the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Her primary focus when saying this is probably on core political areas such as immigration.

Yet there are numerous other areas, including IP, that probably don’t have the same political sensitivity, and where the CJEU currently has a role in adjudicating disputes. Assuming that the UK will continue to cooperate with the EU in areas such as trade, standards, IP, and research cooperation, some form of international decision-making body will be required, that may look very similar to the CJEU. For example, the UK may wish to cooperate with other EU countries in the area currently covered by the Euratom treaty, and this is likely to require a supervisory body. Currently, while the UK remains a party to that treaty, the body is the CJEU.

This issue also comes up in relation to IP. If a way is found for the UK to participate in the Unified Patent Convention, post-Brexit, it is likely to involve either CJEU jurisdiction or something very similar. Similarly, if the UK is to continue as a member of the pan-EU trade mark and design systems, something of this kind will be required.

There are hints in the White Paper that the UK Government may “get” this point, but they are so subtle and unspecific that it requires a degree of faith to believe that they exist. In particular, though the White Paper refers to ending CJEU jurisdiction, it spends several paragraphs discussing the benefits of international dispute resolution mechanisms and the likely need for such mechanisms in the UK’s future relationship with the EU:

2.3 …We will bring an end to the jurisdiction of the CJEU in the UK. We will of course continue to honour our international commitments and follow international law.

2.4 We recognise that ensuring a fair and equitable implementation of our future relationship with the EU requires provision for dispute resolution.
2.5 Dispute resolution mechanisms ensure that all parties share a single understanding of an agreement, both in terms of interpretation and application. These mechanisms can also ensure uniform and fair enforcement of agreements.

2.8 The UK already has a number of dispute resolution mechanisms in its international arrangements. The same is true for the EU. Unlike decisions made by the CJEU, dispute resolution in these agreements does not have direct effect in UK law.

2.10 …The actual form of dispute resolution in a future relationship with the EU will be a matter for negotiations between the UK and the EU, and we should not be constrained by precedent. Different dispute resolution mechanisms could apply to different agreements, depending on how the new relationship with the EU is structured. Any arrangements must be ones that respect UK sovereignty, protect the role of our courts and maximise legal certainty, including for businesses, consumers, workers and other citizens.

It is possible to read into these words an acceptance, for example, of the CJEU (or a similar body with a face-saving, different name, perhaps) having a limited, supervisory jurisdiction over the Unitary Patent, as a form of dispute resolution mechanism over the “interpretation” of the UPC, particularly when combined with the Government’s comment about the UPC being part of the European Patent Convention, which is a non-EU treaty.

sovereignIt may be a slightly tougher sell to fit continuing participation in pan-EU trade mark and design registrations within this thinking, as they clearly are part of the EU system. But perhaps in 2 years there will be a greater acceptance that close cooperation in EU trade-related institutions is in the UK’s interests and doesn’t prejudice the UK’s new-won “sovereignty”.

IP Draughts is relieved to see that IP is not the only area where the issue of post-Brexit CJEU jurisdiction is rearing its ugly head. It seems to be an issue across numerous other areas, including mutual recognition of civil judgments, nuclear research cooperation, aviation safety, and international standards generally. IP Draughts hopes that the Government will quietly find a way of ensuring continuing cooperation with the EU in these areas that side-steps the Government’s avowed intent to escape the clutches of the CJEU.

 

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CDAs and liquidated damages

panicConsider the following clause, which is taken from a template confidentiality agreement that can be found quickly on the internet.

Liquidated Damages. In case of unauthorized use or disclosure of the Confidential Information, the Disclosing Party shall be entitled to liquidated damages in the amount of €10 000 (ten thousand Euro) for each such use or disclosure.

Notwithstanding the right to liquidated damages, the Disclosing Party has the right to take any measures available and to claim and receive a higher amount of compensation if the Disclosing Party can prove that the actual damage sustained will exceed the amount of liquidated damages.

IP Draughts has seen variants of this wording in a significant minority of CDAs over the last decade. Typically, the CDA has been drafted by a lawyer in a civil law jurisdiction, rather than a common law jurisdiction. The above example appears in an agreement used by a Dutch company.

To a common lawyer’s eyes (well, certainly to this English common lawyer’s eyes), the clause appears strange and inappropriate for several reasons, and would often be resisted. In IP Draughts’ experience, when the clause is resisted, the party that proposed it is, in a fair number of cases, willing to remove it from the CDA. It doesn’t seem to be a “must have” clause.

Why does the clause seem inappropriate to an English common lawyer?

First, because the traditional view of liquidated damages clauses was that they were supposed to be a “genuine pre-estimate” of the loss that the non-breaching would suffer as a result of the breach. They were specifically not supposed to be a penalty, or disincentive for breach, as this would render the clause unenforceable.

illiquidPutting the figure of €10 000 in a template agreement does not suggest that the drafter has related the amount to a pre-estimate of loss in an individual case. Rather, it appears that the figure has been included as a disincentive to breach. IP Draughts’ view was (and still is, subject to comments at the end of this article) that, if you are going to include a liquidated damages clause, some thought is required as to why the figure is appropriate in the individual case, and that it would be prudent to record the reasons for coming up with the figure in a file note. If the clause is later challenged in court, one could produce the file note to demonstrate that it was intended to be a pre-estimate of the loss and that the amount was thought to be reasonable rather than a penalty or “stick” to beat up the other party.

Secondly, because it is inherently difficult to pre-estimate loss in the case of many CDAs, particularly those which concern early-stage technology. The confidential information might be used to develop a product, and the product might be highly successful. Or it might not. The range of possible values for the information will sometimes range from zero to millions. Even if the information stands a reasonable chance of being developed into a blockbuster product, a court would typically be likely, when assessing damages, to heavily discount the amount to take account of the uncertainties, risks and time involved in taking information through to a successful product.

In the case of many CDAs, the most useful remedy for breach or anticipated breach may be to obtain an urgent injunction to stop any disclosure or further disclosure.  The likely cost of obtaining such an injunction may be several times €10 000, at least in the English legal system.

Thus, the figure of €10 000 seems to be plucked out of the air, unrelated to any measurable loss, and unrelated to the costs of enforcement of contractual rights under the CDA.

Thirdly, because the whole idea of a liquidated damages clause in the English system (and, IP Draughts suspects, in other common law jurisdictions) is to avoid the need to calculate losses at trial. The parties are agreeing in advance what the damages will be. This is what the term “liquidated damages” is supposed to mean. It is therefore misconceived to say, as the above clause does, that you can claim more than the agreed amount. It turns the clause into a “minimum damages” clause rather than a “liquidated damages” clause.

IP Draughts suspects that wording such as that quoted above reflects a misguided mish-mash of common law and civil law concepts. IP Draughts has commented before on the pervasive use of US templates in agreements that are made under non-US laws, and where the template uses US legal concepts that may not be appropriate in the jurisdiction in which the agreement is made.

penaltyIP Draughts doesn’t know what the correct Dutch law term (ie in the Dutch language) is for a damages provision such as that quoted above, nor what its English language equivalent would be. He suspects that the term might be “penalty” or its Dutch language equivalent, but that the drafter of the English language version was concerned about including this word in view of its negative connotations under common laws, and preferred the more benign, but inaccurate term, “liquidated damages”.

For most of IP Draughts’ career, English lawyers have focussed on trying to ensure that a clause providing in advance for a financial payment of this kind was a liquidated damages clause rather than an unlawful penalty. Many lawyers have even thought it desirable to include in such a clause a statement such as “The parties acknowledge that this amount is a genuine pre-estimate of the anticipated loss that will result from a breach of clause X.” This statement was designed to echo the words used by one of the judges in the leading English case on liquidated damages clauses, the 1915 House of Lords case of Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co Ltd v New Garage and Motor Co Ltd. IP Draughts has always found this wording rather self-serving, and likely to be ignored by the court in the event of dispute.

English lawyers’ certainties about liquidated damages clauses were shaken last year, with the decision of the UK Supreme Court in a pair of cases that, in the interests of brevity, IP Draughts will call the ParkingEye case [2015] UKSC 67.

The Supreme Court decided that the Dunlop case had been misunderstood. The justices in the Supreme Court each gave slightly different reasons for their decision, but a common thread was that a penalty could be enforced if:

  1. it protects a legitimate business interest; and
  2. the amount is not extravagent, exorbitant or unconscionable.

parkingeyeMoreover, in commercial contracts between parties  of comparable bargaining power, there was a presumption that the parties were the best judges of what is legitimate, and the court should not strive to find an unlawful penalty.

In light of this important decision, IP Draughts is less concerned about the enforceability of a pre-determined damages clause of €10 000, as this is not a huge amount in the context of commercial litigation or for most business clients. However:

  • He will probably continue to use the term liquidated damages rather than penalty, if that is what the clause is.
  • He will be less concerned about demonstrating that the amount is a genuine pre-estimate of loss, and more concerned with whether there is a good reason for the clause, whether the parties are of comparably bargaining power, and whether the amount seems proportionate.
  • He will continue to recommend that clauses of the kind quoted above are resisted, as being unnecessary and inappropriate in many cases.

 

 

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