Date: 21 July 2020
The Patents Court has ruled in favour of IPCom in its case against Vodafone. The court held that IPCom’s patent relating to the allocation of access rights for a telecommunications channel to subscriber stations of the telecommunications network was valid, essential to the operation of a telecommunications standard and infringed by some aspects of Vodafone’s 4G infrastructure.
However, Mr Recorder Douglas Campbell QC upheld Vodafone’s defence that its use of the patented technology constituted use “for the service of the Crown” under s 55 of the Patents Act 1997. It was ruled to be not infringing insofar as it provided access to its network for emergency responders under the Mobile Telecommunications Privileged Access Scheme (MTPAS). The MTPAS is owned by the Cabinet Office and provides privileged access to mobile phone networks for police, fire, ambulance and other emergency services.
This decision is of particular interest due to the findings in relation to Crown use: a defence rarely considered in UK patent cases. An express Crown use provision (including provision for compensation) was introduced by Parliament back in the Victorian era; a time when there would have been only a handful of patents covering infringing articles. This latest judgment provides some guidance to the application of such a defence in the modern age, and could potentially apply to sectors other than telecommunications; for example, medicines where the UK Government is a major purchaser.
Case citation: IPCom GmbH & Co KG v Vodafone Group Plc  EWHC 132 (Pat);  Bus. L.R. 514;  1 WLUK 215 (Ch D (Patents Ct))
Our full article appears in Computer and Telecommunications Law Review (C.T.L.R.) 2020, 26(5), 133-136