The Battle of the Shower Cleansers

How to keep the costs of a court dispute under control.

In a notable case, two multinational corporations kept their exposure to costs low by using the Patents County Court (PCC) to conduct a patent battle relating to automatic devices for cleaning showers. In Unilever v S. C. Johnson & Son [2012] EWPCC 19
Unilever succeeded in revoking a patent of S.C Johnson and having a second patent declared only partially valid. However, instead of involving costs on each side running to millions of pounds, as has become common in the Patents Court (the High Court), this case was fought with more modest resources.

In a Patents Court case each side is usually represented by patent attorneys, solicitors and barristers. More often than not, the barrister is a QC, and a junior barrister is also involved. In this PCC case, the legal representation consisted of junior intellectual property counsel instructed by firms of patent attorneys. In the words of the judge, Birss HHJ:

“The action was commenced in the Patents County Court on 27th July 2011 and has been conducted under the PCC rules. One might ask whether a case between two multinational corporations is suitable for the PCC. Since neither side suggested the matter should be transferred, the question did not arise. I can say this much. In terms of the issues to be decided, the case is clearly suitable for the PCC. There has been no disclosure and the evidence consists only of reports from in-house experts on both sides. ...The trial took 1½ days. As far as I can tell it has been run expeditiously and without major cost.”