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January 27, 2011

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Court action launched over construction-safety product patent

A small engineering firm is taking advantage of a change in patent rules to take on a larger competitor who, it claims, has copied its construction safety product.

Hertfordshire-based Ambar Kelly is using the recently updated Patent County Court Rules to take Lowe Engineering (Midland) Ltd to court for allegedly infringing patents of the former’s RiserSafe® system (pictured) – a cast-in protective cover designed to prevent workers and materials from falling through riser voids.

The new rules were introduced on 1 October 2010 and limit costs in cases brought to the Patent County Court to £50,000, thus making it easier for small firms to bring action to defend their intellectual property rights. Previously, trying to enforce patent rights could cost up to £1 million in legal fees.

RiserSafe has been on the market for around two years. According to Ambar Kelly, Lowe Engineering brought its product – Riser Pod – out last year.  In response, Ambar Kelly filed a lawsuit at the Patent County Court on 17 January, saying “these designs are our property and our livelihood. We are committed to protecting the interests of our shareholders, customers and other stakeholders.”

Added the firm’s managing director, Alex Bardett: “It is regrettable that we have had to issue litigation against Lowe Engineering (Midland) Ltd. They could have avoided this court action by taking a licensing option that was offered to them in the past.”

However, Lowe Engineering has refuted Ambar Kelly’s claim that the smaller firm’s product was around first, and intends to “fully defend the case on the clear-cut basis that Ambar Kelly’s patent in its current form is and always has been invalid”.

In a statement, the company added: “Lowe’s Riser Pod predates both the patent and the RiserSafe product, and has a long history of being the preferred choice for the construction industry.”

The firm also emphasised that Ambar Kelly’s legal action is actually “a reaction” to proceedings launched by Lowe against the Hertfordshire firm last December.

Bardett defended its action, saying “thanks to these new changes in patent protection rules we, and other companies like ours, have the power to enforce our patent”.

The British Safety Industry Federation, which campaigns strongly on the issues of safety-product validity and conformance to accepted standards, welcomed the Patent County Court rule-change as “a realistic approach to ensure a fair opportunity for all companies to challenge potential infringements”.

Added chief executive officer, David Lummis: “The BSIF strongly believes enforcement of patents is essential to any business, as it ensures continued innovation in product design and helps guarantee that the customer is not buying what may be an inferior product. Safety equipment is not an area to take chances with.”

In terms of product conformance to safety standards, the BSIF independently verifies suppliers and lists them in its Registered Safety Supplier Scheme.

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