A few years ago, the UK Intellectual Property Office introduced a system under which it is possible to request from it an opinion on questions of infringement and validity of UK patents. Such opinions are not binding, but the system is intended to offer a relatively speedy and low cost method of obtaining an assessment of the strength of a patent that will assist parties reach settlements in disputes, and reduce the likelihood of a case proceeding to litigation. All opinions are publicly available.
When this system was announced, it was greeted with a certain degree of scepticism, due to its non-binding nature and the perceived difficulty in extrapolating from such an opinion, which is necessarily based only on limited information, to the likely outcome of litigation, in which cross-examination and the testimony of expert witnesses may have a critical bearing on the case.
However, the system has been taken up to a greater degree than anticipated, and the UKIPO has just published its 100th Opinion. We will continue to consider the applicability of this system to our client's circumstances, and use it where appropriate.