Intellectual Property Disputes
Disputes over intellectual property rights can be categorized as follows.
  • application: where an application for a trade mark, design, patent or other registered intellectual property right is opposed either by an examiner or some other party;
  • title: where one or more parties claim title to, or an interest in, the invention, design, copyright work or other subject matter because of his or her contribution towards its realization, financial or other support, contract or otherwise;
  • infringement: complaints by a patentee, registered proprietor, copyright owner or proprietor of some other intellectual property or his or her exclusive licensee of infringement of his monopoly or exclusive right;
  • licensing: disputes between the intellectual property proprietor and his licensee over the performance of obligations under a licence, refusal to grant or renew a licence or to grant it on acceptable terms;
  • revocation: an application for the revocation of a patent or a trade mark or for declaration of invalidity of a trade mark or registered design; and
  • threats: complaints by someone aggrieved of threats to bring patent, registered or unregistered design or trade mark infringement proceedings whether the complainant is the person threatened or not.
These categories are not mutually exclusive. For instance, a defendant to a patent infringement claim will usually try to counterclaim for revocation of the patent.

Dispute Resolution Forums
The procedures available to resolve such disputes include administrative tribunals,litigation in the civil courts, arbitration and alternative dispute resolution ("ADR").

Administrative Tribunals
The Intellectual Property Office ("IPO"), European Patent Office ("EPO") and Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market ("OHIM") provide independent tribunals to determine application and some title disputes.

IPO tribunals may hear patent (though not trade mark or registered design) infringement claims, but only with the parties' consent. They may, however, hear applications to revoke patents and trade marks or for declarations of invalidity of UK registered designs and trade marks, applications for compulsory licences and licences of right in respect of design rights. 

Appeal lies from the IPO to 
  • the Patents Court in respect of patent cases, 
  • the Chancery Division or a person appointed by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to hear appeals under the Trade Marks Act 1994 ("the Appointed Person") in respect of trade mark cases and, 
  • for the time being, the Registered Designs Appeal Tribunal in respect of registered and some unregistered designs
The EPO hears what are in effect applications to revoke European patents though they are known as "opposition proceedings". Such applications must be brought within 9 months of the date of grant.

OHIM hears applications for declaration of invalidity of a Community trade mark. Appeal lies to the General Court.

Disputes over licensing schemes in respect of copyright, database right and rights in performances in the UK may be referred to the Copyright Tribunal

Some licence disputes give rise to complaints of infringement of EC or UK competition law which are dealt with by the Competition Directorate-General of the EC Commission or the Office of Fair Trading ("OFT").

Civil Courts
Infringement, revocation and threats actions in England and Wales as well as appeals from the IPO, Copyright Tribunal and other administrative tribunals are heard by the High Court.

S.61 (1) and paragraph 1 (i) of Schedule 1 of the Senior Courts Act 1981 allocates all causes and matters relating to patents, trade marks, registered designs, trade marks and copyrights to the Chancery Division which in practice also hears passing off and most breach of confidence claims. Proceedings relating to the Patents Act 1977 or the Registered Designs Act 1949 must be brought in the Patents Court or the patents jurisdiction of the Central London County Court ("the Patents County Court"). Those courts also have exclusive jurisdiction in semiconductor topography and plant varieties cases,

Some licensing disputes are also heard in the Queen's Bench Division and those involving the supply of computer software by the Technology and Construction Court.

The Patents County Court and county courts attached to chancery district registries (Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff) have jurisdiction to hear copyright, design right, trade marks, passing off and breach of confidence claims. The Caernarfon, Mold and Preston county courts also have jurisdiction to hear copyright, design right, passing off and breach of confidence but not trade mark cases.

A dispute can be referred to arbitration only if all the parties expressly or impliedly agree. Such agreement may be entered either before or after a dispute arises. They usually appear as dispute resolution terms in licences, software development or other contracts between the parties. For that reason, arbitration is not infrequently used as a method of resolving licensing disputes but rarely infringement claims.

The Arbitration and Mediation Centre of the WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) provides a panel, case management and other facilities for the arbitration of international intellectual property disputes.

Alternative Dispute Resolution
This is an omnibus label given to a basket of dispute resolution procedures of which the best known and most commonly used is mediation. Others include expert determination, early neutral evaluation and mini-trial. In the USA but not England or other Commonwealth common law jurisdictions, the expression ADR also includes arbitration. See the "ADR" page for further information.

Mediation differs from other forms of dispute resolution in that it is not imposed on the parties. It is in fact a form of moderated negotiation whereby the neutral may facilitate agreement thorough insight into underlying issues that are not always apparent to the parties themselves. In suitable cases it can be very fast and cost-effective and a high success rate is claimed by mediation service providers.

The WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Centre mentioned above provides a panel, case management and other facilities for the mediation of international intellectual property disputes.

Expert Determination
A special form of ADR, which has proved extremely popular in resolving domain name disputes since 1999, is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ("ICANN") Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Procedure ("UDRP"). There are now similar procedures for country code domain name disputes such as Nominet's. TheWIPO already offers on-line dispute resolution services for application service provider and keyword link disputes. 

Intellectual Property Office Advisory Opinions
S.13 of the Patents Act 2004 inserted two new provisions into the Patents Act 1977 to permit the Intellectual Property Office to deliver advisory opinions as to whether a particular act infringes (or would infringe) a patent and the validity of a patent. The Intellectual Property Office charges £200 for the service and aims to deliver its findings within 3 months. These provisions came into force at the beginning of October 2005. Further information on the service can be obtained from the "Opinions" page of the IPO website.

These methods of dispute resolution are not mutually exclusive and each may be used at different stages of a dispute. For instance, CPR1.4 (1) requires the court to further the overriding objective of dealing with cases justly by active case management which connotes 

"encouraging the parties to use an alternative dispute resolution procedure if the court considers that appropriate and facilitating the use of such procedure."

Each of these procedures has its strengths and weaknesses. For instance, litigation can be fast and injunctions are enforced by the threat of fines or committal to prison but it is also expensive and public. Arbitration can also be quick and proceedings are private but there is limited recourse to appeal against a bad decision and it can be expensive.  ADR is fast and cheap and proceedings are also confidential but it requires a measure of goodwill and commitment to the resolution of the dispute on all sides.