Justice Carr in the UK has weighed into case management of design infringement cases in a big way.

Clingabeez[1] are apparently the runaway toy of the last year or so, being the Activity Toy of 2016 in the UK. They are the subject of a Registered Community Design. So, when what they allege are “copycats” hit the market, the letters of demand started flying. “Bunchem[2] is one such competitor.[3] It sued for unjustified threats and challenges the validity of the Registered Community Design. “Clingabeez” cross-claimed for infringement and denied invalidity.

At the initial case management conference, Clingabeez estimated a six-day trial and £776,000 costs; Bunchem estimated a four day trial and £360,000 costs.

Justice Carr considered both estimates were well out of order. His Lordship considered that a case relating to a registered design for a consumer product should be much simpler, largely dependent on the Court’s visual assessment of the evidence. In line with Court of Appeal decisions,[4] at [6], Justice Carr said:

(i) Registered design cases are concerned with the overall impression of the registered design, the alleged infringement and the design corpus. It is easier to see this than to describe it in words.

(ii) Admissible evidence in such cases is very limited, and is most likely to comprise technical evidence about design constraints. Such evidence is unlikely to require substantial cross-examination. It should be possible to decide a registered design case in a few hours.

(iii) If permission for expert evidence is to be given, then the precise ambit of that evidence should be defined. The expert should be told what question to address and the evidence should be confined to those questions.

(iv) It is clear law that whether the defendant has copied is irrelevant. It is equally irrelevant for the defendant to prove or to give disclosure about how his design was arrived at.

On the question of admissible evidence and further discovery, Justice Carr excluded evidence going to copying at this stage. Copying was not relevant to the question of infringement. However, it could be relevant to the remedy of additional damages. Accordingly, his Lordship postponed discovery and any evidence directed to that issue to any subsequent hearing on remedies if the trial on liability and validity resulted in a finding of infringement.

Both parties had already filed detailed particulars of, respectively, differences and similarities. Justice Carr did not consider the parties’ requests for further information about these matters would be helpful. However, his Lordship directed that each side should exchange concurrently enlarged photographs of the products alleged to infringe marked up to indicate the points it relied on.

His Lordship limited the expert evidence to the following matters;

There are very limited issues upon which expert evidence is admissible. The issues on which I intend to allow expert evidence are as follows. First, are any of the features listed in subparagraphs (1) to (9) of paragraph 6.5 of the Amended Particulars of Claim features of appearance of a construction toy such as Bunchems which are solely dictated by its technical function? Second, to what extent, if any, is the degree of freedom of design limited by the functional nature, if any, of the features of subparagraphs (1) to (9) of paragraph 6.5 of the Amended Particulars of Claim?

Bunchem” was happy with its expert evidence being limited to 10 pages and two pages (excluding exhibits) directed to the design corpus. “Clingabeez”, having asked for 20 pages, was permitted 15.

Justice Carr fixed the trial duration at three days including reading time, and did not think it would be necessary for any adjournment for preparation of final written submissions. His Lordship then set out at [23] eight “lessons for the future” to achieve shorter trials more expeditiously in such matters:

(i) The parties should, in appropriate cases, produce images at an early stage to show the differences or similarities upon which they rely, and in the case of the defendant, those features which are wholly functional or in which design freedom is said to be limited. Requests for further information are unlikely to be helpful.

(ii) Claimants should not try to introduce or seek disclosure in relation to copying. The parties should carefully consider why, if at all, disclosure is necessary, rather than agreeing to standard or even issue based disclosure.

(iii) Expert evidence as to whether the alleged infringement produces on the informed user the same or a different overall impression as the registered design should not be included in cases concerning consumer products.

(iv) The parties should try to limit the length of expert evidence to an agreed number of pages.

(v) If any evidence of fact is to be introduced, the court will need to be satisfied of its relevance.

(vi) The parties should be prepared at the pre-trial review to identify issues on which cross-examination is necessary, and to explain why.

(vii) Where multiple designs, or multiple infringements, are alleged, the parties should each select a limited number of samples on which the issues can be tested.

(viii) The parties should give careful thought to those issues which can be postponed to a damages enquiry, which will only need to be considered if liability is established.

Justice Carr’s approach would no doubt commend itself to Justice Finkelstein, were he still on the bench. It may also be rather more difficult for an Australian court to exclude evidence going to the “ultimate question”, given section 80 of the Evidence Act and the first Cadbury/Darrell Lea appeal. On the other hand, the relevance of copying is exactly the same.[5] Nonetheless, as both the Federal Court and the Federal Circuit Court are striving to make litigation more costs effective,[6] there may well be considerable interest in exploring Justice Carr’s admonitions DownUnder.

Spin Master Limited v PMS International Group [2017] EWHC 1477 (Pat)

  1. Otherwise known as PMS International Group.  ?
  2. Spin Master Limited.  ?
  3. Indeed, a Google search or visit to Youtube might see the two brand names used interchangeably. For example  ?
  4. Procter & Gamble Co v Reckitt Benckiser (UK) Limited [2007] EWCA Civ 936; [2008] Bus LR 801 and repeated and expanded by the Court of Appeal Dyson Ltd v Vax Ltd [2011] EWCA Civ 1206; [2013] Bus LR 328  ?
  5. Review 2 Pty Ltd v Redberry Enterprise Pty Ltd [2008] FCA 1588.  ?
  6. See also chapter 19 of the Productivity Commission’s Intellectual Property Arrangements – Final Report.  ?