Today, a great deal of published information about patents and patent applications is readily available for free on the Internet. The EPO’s excellent “Espacenet” service allows you to search for and view information on the vast majority of patent publications worldwide (see How to do your own free patent search). Google Patents is another popular source. At the same time, most national patent offices provide detailed and up-to-date status information on every patent under their jurisdiction online, so that you can see which patents are in force, which lapsed, whether they have been sold or transferred, etc., just by searching on the relevant website.
Up until now, the missing link has been information from the courts where patents are enforced. If you are worried about a competitor patent (which they may have been making some noise about), it is worth knowing not only that they have paid their renewal fees but also whether or not the patentee has tried to enforce their patent in Court – and what happened when they did.
Google Patents have recently entered into a partnership with Darts-IP in order to make this information more visible. Darts-IP are a commercial database provider who collect and collate this information from courts around the world.
Clicking the “Litigation – view patent family cases” link in Google Patents will now take you to a page showing whether the patent has been litigated, and where. Equivalent overseas cases are found as well. In the example on the right, the document showing is a US granted patent, but the Darts-IP link reveals that there have been relevant cases both in the US and on the equivalent European Patent.
To view further details about the particular cases, a Darts-IP subscription is needed. Albright IP have a full subscription and we can retrieve data on behalf of our clients.
What information is publicly available from courts?
In general, written Judgments from English Courts end up in the http://www.bailii.org database, which is free-of-charge and readily available online.
With a little more effort and on payment of a modest official fee, the Court will usually provide copies of the parties’ written statements of case and any Court Order given or made in public. In fact the Civil Procedure Rules set out a list of no fewer than 16 categories of document which can normally be supplied to the public, although for most of those categories I would be able to recommend better value and more interesting reading material!
Written evidence, including expert reports, is not by default available for the public to request copies. An application would have to be made to the Court to allow inspection, and might be opposed by one or more of the parties if they want to keep this from public view.
How much actually ever gets written down?
There is an awful lot that goes on in Court that doesn’t. While most final judgments of the High Court and above, including the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court, are written and published, for the much larger number of interim decisions and final decisions in lower courts (including the small claims track in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court), judgments are normally given verbally and no official written record is made. However, unless there is a compelling reason, most hearings are open to the public. You can go along and listen to what the Judge has to say and hope that they talk slowly enough that you can write most of it down. Cameras and recording devices are forbidden but you can bring your coloured pastels and sketch the proceedings from memory afterwards (for some reason, not often done in IP cases.)
On a more realistic note, we have access to Darts-IP and a number of other databases. We have experience looking for this data and know where to find it. So, if you need research into IP rights or IP disputes of any kind, get in touch.