Friday, 19 July 2019

The Role of Intellectual Property in Space Commerce

Buss Aldrin on the Moon in 1969   Author NASA  Reproduced courtesy of the US Government

Jane Lambert

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, the United States Patent and Trademark Office ("USPTO") will hold an event at its offices in Alexandria, Virginia on 23 July 2019 between 14:00 and 16:30 local time entitled Apollo 50: The role of intellectual property in space commerceSpeakers will include Mr Jim Bridenstine who is the administrator or head of the US space agency (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)) and Mr Andrei Iancu who is the director of the USPTO.  According to the Eventbrite card, the event will focus on "space innovation, technology transfer from the Apollo missions, and an overview of the current administration’s policy on space exploration, commerce, and industry."  If I were in the USA next week I would have applied to attend that event and I strongly advise any readers who find themselves in the vicinity of the USPTO to do so.

American industry benefited greatly from the Apollo Programme in many ways.  One example is Black & Decker's handheld vacuum cleaner which is featured on the USPTO's website (see Laura Larrimore's article Moondust and Marketing Magic). That was the result of applying technology to develop cordless power tools that could be used safely by astronauts for everyday tasks in the home.  There are of course many other products that resulted from space exploration from quartz-powered wristwatches to building insulation though apparently not non-stick or Teflon frying pans as polytetrafluoroethylene was discovered in 1938.

Although some British businesses have participated in the US space programme as suppliers or subcontractors, most of the work was done by the US government through various departments and agencies or by American companies.  In the 1960s the only countries that could launch things and people into space were the USA and the Soviet Union.  There are now many other countries with space exploration programmes including the UK (see Wikipedia's List of Government Space Agencies).  Increasingly, space exploration is being undertaken by private companies (see Jason Perlow To the Moon: 50 years after Apollo 11, is SpaceX the new NASA? 17 July 2019 ZDNet).

As a result of those developments, there are now many more opportunities for British businesses (see London Economics Size & Health of the UK Space Industry 2018 A Report to the UK Space Agency January 2019).  Many of those opportunities will arise in Cornwall, particularly if Newquay airport becomes a spaceport for horizontal space launches (see Cornwall and Isles of Scilly press release Cornwall makes case for space to Westminster 20 Nov 2018).  A cluster of businesses to support the spaceport and the earth station at Goonhilly is already gathering.

That brings me to the title of this article.  British companies need to protect their investment in research and development just as much as American ones and we really should have a high-level conference on the role of IP here.  Unless and until we do, here are some pointers:
  • Unless and until they are ready to apply for a patent, they should take great care to keep sensitive documents under lock and key when not in use and to ensure that all staff, collaborators, suppliers and others do the same.
  • Any sensitive information should be disclosed in confidence with the terms of the disclosure set out in writing.
  • Monitor any disclosures and require the return of any documents and copies once the purpose of the disclosure has been met.
  • For suitable inventions, apply for patents not just in the UK but in all important markets and in the countries of your main competitors.
  • Never forget alternatives to patenting such as copyrights for software, database right, unregistered design right and trade marks for brands.
Should anyone wish to discuss this article or any of its contents, call me on +44 (0)20 7404 55252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Enforcing Cornish Intellectual Property Rights

Greenburrow Pumping Engine of Trevithick's Mine
Author Rod Allday
Licence Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0
Source Wikipedia

Jane Lambert

In 1797 the famous Cornish mining engineer, Richard Trevithick, was sued for patent infringement by the engineering firm Boulton & Watt. I have tried to find a report or other account of the case.  All I have been able to discover is that an injunction was granted and notice of the order was posted on one of Trevithick's buildings but it does not seem to have been served on Trevithick himself allegedly because the process servers feared they might be thrown down a mine shaft were they to approach him.

Had Trevithinck been sued today the claim would have proceeded in the Patents Court or Intellectual Property Enterprise Court ("IPEC") because CPR 63.2 (2) allocates to those courts actions relating to patents, registered or registered Community designs, semiconductor topographies or plant varieties.  Until 1 Oct 2017 those actions would have been issued out of the Rolls Building in London because that is where those courts are based.  However, paragraph 2.3 (2) of the Practice Direction - Business and Property Courts requires them to be issued out of the Bristol District Registry if they have significant links with Cornwall or some other part of the Western Circuit.   That is because the Bristol District Registry is the only Business and Property Court ("B&PC") district registry on the Western Circuit.

Paragraph 2.3 (3) of the Practice Direction states that a link to a particular circuit is established where:
"(a) one or more of the parties has its address or registered office in the circuit in question (with extra weight given to the address of any non-represented parties);
(b) at least one of the witnesses expected to give oral evidence at trial or other hearing is located in the circuit;
(c) the dispute occurred in a location within the circuit;
(d) the dispute concerns land, goods or other assets located in the circuit; or
(e) the parties’ legal representatives are based in the circuit."
Paragraph 2.3 (4) adds that  a claim which raises significant questions of fact or law in common with another claim already proceeding before a B&PC District Registry may be regarded as having significant links with that  circuit.

All other IP cases with such links to the Western Circuit should be issued out of Bristol if they have significant links with Cornwall or elsewhere on the Western Circuit whether in the High Court, County Court or IPEC. That is because the Bristol District Registry is also the only Chancery district registry on the Western Circuit.  Accordingly, Bristol is the only County Court hearing centre on the Western Circuit with a Chancery district registry attached.

If the case has significant links with another circuit as may have been the case in the claim brought against Trevithick as Boulton and Watt were based in Birmingham, the claim should be brought in another B&PC District Registry.  Alternatively, it can be issued out of the Rolls Building in London.

Paragraph 2.5 (3) of PD-Business and Property Courts warns that:
"A claim in the Intellectual Property List, which includes the Patents Court and the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (“IPEC”) (and includes the IPEC small claims track to which rule 63.27 applies), may be issued in an appropriate BPCs District Registry. However the case management and/or trial of a claim in the Patents Court or the IPEC in the BPCs District Registry in question will be dependent on an appropriate judge being made available in the district registry in question."
However, both the Patents Court and IPEC guides have stated for many years that assigned and enterprise judges will sit outside London for the purpose of saving time or costs (see paragraph 4 of the Patents Court Guide and paragraph 1.5 of The Intellectual Property Enterprise Court Guide).

Anyone wishing to discuss this article should call me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Welcome to NIPC Cornwall

St Piran's Flag
Author Jon Harald Søby
Licence Reproduced with kind permission of the author
Source Wikipedia

Jane Lambert

In Commercial Exploitation of Space: Space Industry Act 2018 10 April 2018 NIPC Law, I discussed the government's aim as set out in its Industrial Strategy white paper for the rapid expansion of the British space industry. If the government succeeds, one of the regions that should benefit more than most will be Cornwall. That is because the Goonhilly earth station is already located in Cornwall and there are advanced plans to develop Cornwall Airport Newquay into a spaceport (see Spaceport Cornwall).

A spaceport is a facility for the launch and/or receiving of spacecraft (see What is a spaceport on the Spaceport Newquay website). S.10 and Schedule 1 to the Space Industry Act 2018 specify a number of requirements for the licensing of spaceports and these are likely to be supplemented by regulations made under the Act. It is therefore likely to be a number of years before a licence can be obtained for space vehicles to be launched from Newquay.  Nevertheless, there is already a cluster of aerospace businesses around the airport according to the Aerohub website and there is plenty of room for expansion after a licence to operate a spaceport is obtained.

Aerospace is not the only advanced technology in Cornwall.  According to Tech Nation a digital cluster has formed in the Redruth and Truro area which is described as "small" but "increasingly mighty".  In addition to such obvious advantages as a relatively mild climate and the outstanding beauty of the coast and countryside offering a high quality of life Cornwall benefits from improving broadband connections delivered by Superfast  Cornwall and a developing educational and research infrastructure provided by the Combined Universities in Cornwall.

Those universities in conjunction with the heritage and tourist industries have also facilitated the development of a strong creative sector in sector covering everything from software development to the performing arts and indeed their interface in the digital arts.  Arts Council England has invested in a number of projects in Cornwall as can be seen from the South West England pages of its website.

Finally, it should not be forgotten that although Cornwall's traditional agricultural, fishing, maritime, mining technology and tourism industries have been challenged over the years never disappeared. Business in those industries continue to innovate and flourish as a result.

All that activity leads to intellectual assets that require legal protection and effective management  and that is where I come in. For most of my career I have advised startups and other small businesses in the North of England how to protect and make money from their investment in branding, design, technology and creative works and represented then in negotiations and proceedings in the courts and Intellectual Property Office. In 2013 I moved to London from where I offer those services to small and medium enterprises everywhere including Cornwall. The purpose of this blog is to advise and assist businesses in Cornwall and their professional advisers on legal issues that may affect them.

Anyone wishing to explore those issues or intellectual property or technology law generally should call me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form.