Small business IP cases hit an all-time high

Lucy White
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There has been a gradual increase over the past five years (Source: Getty)

The number of small and medium-sized enterprises launching legal battles to protect their intellectual property (IP) has hit an all-time high, increasing by 68 per cent in the last year.

The UK’s Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (IPEC) heard 339 cases last year, according to law firm Hugh James, shooting up from 202 the year before.

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The firm partly attributes the rise to the increasing online presence of small firms, which leaves businesses more vulnerable to IP theft. Cases often involve original designs, images or video content on social media and websites being reproduced without permission, potentially leading to damage of reputation.

“The internet brings with it a wealth of opportunities for SME businesses. But it is also not without its pitfalls,” said Hugh James partner Tracey Singlehurst-Ward.

However, although the number of cases in 2016 constituted a sharp rise from the year before, the increase is more gradual when viewed over a five-year period. In 2014, 308 IP-related claims were brought in the IPEC compared to 287 a year prior, rendering 2015’s figures slightly anomalous.

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Hugh James puts the general climb in cases down to the trend away from businesses building their success on physical assets, and instead placing it in intangible IP. “That could be patents, designs, trademarks and goodwill in their brands or other works attracting copyright,” said Singlehurst-Ward.

The swell in the number of cases might also be attributable to a number of high-profile cases, which have involved celebrities such as Rihanna and Pharrell Williams, which may have rallied awareness.

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