Small and medium-sized enterprises are continuing to use the UK’s specialised intellectual property court despite having more options available for flexible trials, figures have shown.

According to figures obtained through a freedom of information request, there has been a 68% increase in cases brought at the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court in the past year.

The total has risen to 339 throughout 2016, up from 202 in 2015.

Earlier this year, the Gazette reported that IPEC judge His Honour Judge Richard Hacon had predicted that businesses would still use the court despite the availability of alternatives for parties wanting more flexible trials under the Shorter and Flexible Trial Procedures scheme.

Under that scheme, trials are heard by a single judge, proceed to trial within 10 months with judgments handed down within six months. The option for flexible trials was introduced in 2015 for a two year period but was extended until 2018 last year.

At the IPEC, which changed its rules in 2010, cases are also heard by a single judge (Hacon) and trials tend not to last longer than two days. Recoverable costs are capped at £50,000 and damages are limited to £500,000. The IPEC changed its name from the Patents County Court in 2013.

According to law firm Hugh James, which filed the FoI request, the cost effectiveness of the IPEC is designed to make the court more accessible to SMEs.

Tracey Singlehurst-Ward, partner, said the number of cases being brought is growing at an impressive rate. ‘We no longer have an economy focused in manufacturing, but rather have a fast paced technology sector driven to reach the next intellectual creation first,’ she said.

’This means is it has become even more important that SMEs make IP advice top of the priority list both when starting out and on an on-going basis. The IPEC is especially designed to help SMEs take the action they need to protect their IP. The rise in claims being heard by the IPEC is a reflection of SMEs becoming better at spotting – and quicker to react to – instances where their IP has come under threat.’