22 October 2013

Hacon to fill Birss’s shoes at UK court

British barrister Richard Hacon is set to become the permanent presiding judge of the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (IPEC), multiple sources have told WIPR.

The role has been vacant since April this year, when Colin Birss left to become a High Court judge. Until October, the IPEC was called the Patents County Court.

Despite a re-branding, the IPEC continues to target small and medium-sized companies, often dealing with less complex IP disputes. It handles claims worth up to £500,000 ($807,000) and caps fines for losers at £50,000 (£80,700).

Hacon, who was called to the bar in 1979, works at 11 South Square Chambers in London. He handles all areas of IP law, but his science background (microbiology) means he often covers highly technical patent cases.

But one of his best-known cases, at the England & Wales High Court, covered design law. Hacon was constant among Apple’s barrister team that fought to show Samsung’s tablets infringed Apple’s Community design for the iPad.

In July 2012, Birss cleared Samsung of infringement, noting that its tablets were not as “cool” as the Apple design. The ruling was upheld on appeal.

Hacon has appeared in the English courts at all levels, the Court of Justice of the EU and the European Court of First Instance. He handles oppositions and appeals several times a year at the European Patent Office, his clients including Biogen, Genentech and Novartis.

A spokesman for the Judicial Appointments Commission, which held a recruitment consultation in June to replace Birss, said “we are waiting for approval from the Queen on the appointment, so are not able to confirm anything until then”.

But two QCs, as well as several UK-based litigators, have confirmed Hacon has been selected for the role.

One source, speaking off the record, said all of Britain’s senior judges, including president of the Supreme Court Lord Neuberger, will have been consulted.

“It’s a done deal,” he said, adding that an official announcement is likely before December.

If confirmed as Birss’s replacement, Hacon will be an excellent appointment, said Alan Johnson, partner at Bristows LLP.

“I have a very high regard for him. I have used him myself in a number of cases over the years, and particularly remember his excellent performance for me in the Candy v Olympus case in front of Pumfrey J some years ago.

“I never understood why he never took silk,” he said.

Johnson added: “If he is the new judge, then I am sure he will make a great judge. He is not only very experienced, but has worked for many smaller as well as larger clients – much more so than many barristers at the patent bar. He therefore understands the difficulty the ‘little man’ faces in litigation. These sorts of litigants are exactly the ones that the IPEC is there to serve.”

Birss led the PCC for three years, in what was widely regarded as a highly successful tenure.

James Marshall, partner at Taylor Wessing LLP, said: “Through excellence as an IP lawyer and a practical, dedicated and enthusiastic approach to the running of the court, Colin Birss has made a great contribution to its success. It is now very well respected as a cost effective and quick jurisdiction for smaller cases.”

The IPEC position was advertised with a salary of nearly £140,000 ($225,900).

Hacon did not respond to a request for comment.

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