Beam me up, Scottie ...

Vetco Gray, the world's leading supplier of systems, products and services for onshore and offshore oil and gas drilling and production, has been involved in a bit of patent argy-bargy with FMC Technologies Inc, according to a short note the IPKat found this morning on his LexisNexis Butterworths subscription-only case alert.

On 7 December FMC launched patent infringement proceedings against Vetco in Scotland in respect of allegedly infringing act committed there. Although it's not 100% clear from the note, it looks as though Vetco responded by challenging the validity of part of FMC's patent. Exactly a fortnight later Vetco commenced proceedings in two other countries (England and Wales, which share the same Patents Court) for revocation of FMC's patent - or at least for a declaration of non-infringement if the objectionable monopoly turned out to be valid. It seems that the English and Welsh action was likely to be heard in February 2008, while the Scottish action would get to court between one and two months later than that.

In the proceedings before Mr Justice Mann this Tuesday, FMC applied to stay the English and Welsh proceedings in favour of the earlier Scottish action. Mann J granted the application to stay. In his view FMC, like any claimant, can choose the court of competent jurisdiction in which he sues his foes, so long as that court is not a forum non conveniens in which the action would be burdensome to the defendant. In this case Scotland was the more appropriate option: the two sets of proceedings effectively raised the same or substantially similar issues and the alleged infringements had taken place there. The cost of proceedings was broadly similar in each jurisdiction and the time advantage of suing in England and Wales was too small to be material. If there was no stay, there would be an enormous waste of costs and effort. Accordingly the court would not encourage any parallel litigation.

The IPKat concurs, feeling quite pleased that this little skirmish will serve as a reminder to lawyers and litigants alike that there's plenty of IP life North of the Border.

Right: indigenous to Scotland, Mustela putorius (the Polecat) is neither a Pole nor a cat. This animal's placid temperament is disturbed only by its receipt of English-sized costs bills for patent litigation.

Merpel notes Mann J's comment that the cost of patent litigation is broadly the same in Scotland as it is in England and Wales: she distinctly remembers being told by many fine Scottish IP practitioners that it's always going to be a lot cheaper to sue in Scotland than to litigate in England and Wales. Can we have a ruling, please, from our readers?
Beam me up, Scottie ... Beam me up, Scottie ... Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, March 15, 2007 Rating: 5


  1. Having been involved in patent proceedings both north and south of the border, I can assure readers that it is not cheaper to litigate in Scotland. Even if the hourly fees of lawyers in Scotland might be lower, the trials are much longer because of the need for every element of the expert evidence to be adduced in chief (even though the parties also have to go to the expense of serving expert reports). In addition Scottish Judges appear to be less used to CPR-style case management i.e. hurrying the parties along. The result is more expensive trials.

  2. Not for nothing does the polecat's Linnean name contain the term "putorius". The English, before we exterminated it, called it the Foulmart. The Scots seem more tolerant of evil smelling mammals.


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