Reforms to the intellectual property court have led to a spike in IP disputes and encouraged more IP holders to defend their rights against potential infringers, a government-commissioned report has shown.  

The report, which measures the impact of reforms to the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (IPEC) - known as the Patents County Court until 2013 - shows a ‘substantial’ increase in the number of cases filed for IP rights since October 2010 and in particular a strong increase in case filings by small and medium sized businesses.

According to the report, the main reforms driving this spike are the £50,000 cap on costs from court disputes, which practioners interviewed in the report said made it more practical to defend a case at the IPEC. The introduction of active case management has also helped improve the speed of trials and gave a clearer picture of the issues at stake.

The number of pre-filing settlements was shown to have increased, which the report says shows the reforms have made IP holders more confident about entering into disputes where previously they would not have felt confident to do so.

'The IPEC reforms might have had a substantial effect beyond the courtroom: the reforms appear to have fundamentally altered the IP dispute landscape, and in doing so they have increased the likelihood that IP holders will attempt to uphold their rights against potential infringers,’ it says.

Interviews also revealed that the reforms have opened up the process to representatives who are not solicitors or barristers, such as patent attorneys and trademark attorneys, who are now representing their clients more frequently in court.

But despite this, solicitors and barristers still reported an overall increase in their workload following the reforms.

The report, ‘Evaluation of the reforms of the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court 2010-2013’, drew its conclusions from interviews with legal practitioners as well as analysis of litigation at the IPEC and High Court between 2007 and 2013.

Commenting on the report, IP minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe (pictured) said: ‘The report shows that the reforms made to the old Patents County Court through the introduction of IPEC have been successful. Access to justice has greatly improved for all rights holders, but particularly for small and medium sized businesses and entrepreneurs.’