From October, small-business owners in both England and Wales will find it cheaper and easier to protect their business's intellectual property.
The promise has been made by the UK's Business Minister, Michael Fallon, who has launched a fresh way of using the existing Patents County Court (PCC) system to settle smaller claims of 5,000 and less without needing to involve expensive lawyers.
This newly named 'small claims track' forms part of the overhaul planned by the coalition government to benefit smaller businesses. Already, damages and costs in smaller-scale cases of intellectual-property infringements are capped. However, the new track will result in claims being processed far more quickly, with claimants able to write to judges directly and lay out the particulars of their case.
Those who wish to protect their intellectual-property rights will be able to sort out any disputes via an informal hearing system, without the need to engage legal representation. Fallon explained that the lower legal costs involved in the new system meant that entrepreneurs would be able to safeguard their creative ideas without experiencing the long delays and expensive processes previously associated with accessing the justice system.
This cheaper and easier process will be good for small businesses and the coalition government believes that streamlining intellectual-property processes and rights will also help to boost the economy. However, although items such as trademarks, copyrights and unregistered design claims will be able to progress through small-claims courts, other cases may not fall under the new scheme, including any lawsuits that involve plant or patents. The High Court will also still remain the venue for expensive and complex cases and unlimited damages and costs will still be possible.
The government does recommend that legal action remains a final resort for any disputes over intellectual property and that the Intellectual Property Office should be the first port of call because of its mediation and tribunal services.
The news is positive for the franchise world, as well as for independent businesses. New franchisees may have the might of their parent company to assist with legal cases but smaller franchises may welcome this development, along with prospective franchises which are looking to build and protect their brands to extend into the franchise market. In franchising - as with all business - brand recognition and protection and intellectual creativity and innovation are key to market differentiation and competitive advantage. Schemes that prevent unlawful usage of intellectual property will continue to strengthen and build the growing franchising industry and help it to enjoy even further successes.