Legal Week: Top judge accused of bias in landmark patent appeal

Author: Paul Hodkinson
Published: 02/05/2002

A Swedish pharmaceuticals company advised by Simmons & Simmons has launched a groundbreaking appeal against a ruling by Mr Justice Laddie accusing him of having an “appearance of bias” in a patent case.

The highly unusual allegation is one of the grounds of AstraZeneca subsidiary AB Hassle’s appeal against Laddie’s ruling in a patent case.

Laddie ruled that AB Hassle could not enforce a patent for one of its drugs against two rival UK companies, Generics (UK) and Cairnstores.

Although judges have in the past been accused of conflicts of interest — notably Lord Hoffman in the notorious Pinochet case — accusations of bias, especially against such a senior judge, are virtually unheard of.

A source close to AB Hassle’s legal team said that the claim related to Laddie’s “appearance of bias” against the evidence of its expert witness, a Dr Rees.

In his judgment, issued on 6 March, Laddie is highly critical of Rees, comparing him unfavourably with the claimants’ witness, Dr Peter Rue, whom he dubbed “impressive and reliable”.

“It would have been much more pleasing to say that Dr Rees was as impressive a witness as Dr Rue, but I cannot,” he said.

“The overwhelming impression on me was of an able man who was acting as an advocate for the defendant’s case.”

Leave to appeal was granted on 6 March and is scheduled to be heard in the Court of Appeal on 2 October. Simon Thorley QC, of 3 New Square, is appearing for AB Hassle.

As well as accusing Laddie of an appearance of bias, AB Hassle’s legal team will challenge Laddie’s ruling that the patent for its drug, Losec, is unenforceable because the inventive step that produced it was “obvious”.

Laddie is one four IP judges operating out of the Patent Court and is well known among lawyers for his abrasive style.

Taylor Joynson Garrett is acting for Generics (UK) and SJ Berwin is acting for Cairnstores.