Catnic Components Ltd and Another v Hill and Smith Ltd: HL 1982

The plaintiffs had been established as market leaders with their patented construction, had ample production capacity and stocks, but had never granted any licence under their patent. The patent was for a novel type of galvanised steel lintel, which the relevant claim described as including a rear support back plate ‘extending vertically’ from a horizontal plate. The allegedly infringing article included a rear support member which was inclined between 6 degrees and 8 degrees from the vertical. The defendants had not been in business in this field at all, entered the market at the expense of the plaintiffs using an infringing version of the plaintiffs’ patented construction.
Held: The appeal succeeded. The proper damages were on the assumption that the plaintiffs would have made, with their patented lintels, those sales made by the defendants with the infringing lintels save as shown otherwise. An invention involves an inventive step if it is not obvious ‘to a person skilled in the art’ being a person likely to have a practical interest in the subject matter of the invention.
The approach to construction exemplified in Prenn and in Reardon-Smith is to be applied also to the construction of patents claims: ‘A patent specification should be given a purposive construction rather than a purely literal one derived from applying to it the kind of meticulous verbal analysis in which lawyers are too often tempted by their training to indulge.’ and ‘Both parties to this appeal have tended to treat ‘textual infringement’ and infringement of the ‘pith and marrow’ of an invention as if they were separate causes of action, the existence of the former to be determined as a matter of construction only and of the latter upon some broader principle of colourable evasion. There is, in my view, no such dichotomy; there is but a single cause of action and to treat it otherwise . . is liable to lead to confusion.’
Lord Diplock said that it would have been:
‘obvious to a builder familiar with ordinary building operations that the description of a lintel in the form of a weight-bearing box girder of which the back plate was referred to as ‘extending vertically’ from one of the two horizontal plates to join the other, could not have been intended to exclude lintels in which the back plate although not positioned at precisely 90 degree to both horizontal plates was close enough to 90 degree to make no material difference to the way the lintel worked when used in building operations.’ and
‘No plausible reason has been advanced why any rational patentee should want to place so narrow a limitation on his invention. On the contrary, to do so would render his monopoly for practical purposes worthless, since any imitator could avoid it and take all the benefit of the invention by the simple expedient of positioning the back plate a degree or two from the exact vertical.’
Buckley LJ said ‘I do not question the principle that in deciding whether what has been reproduced by an alleged infringer is a substantial part of the work allegedly infringed, one must regard the quality (that is to say the importance) rather than the quantity of the part reproduced (see Ladbroke (Football} Limited v. William Bill (Football J Limited [1964] 1 W.L.R. 273 per Lord Reid at page 276 and per Lord Pearce at page 293); but what is protected is the plaintiffs’ ‘artistic work’ as such, not any information which it may be designed to convey. If it is said that a substantial part of it has been reproduced, whether that part can properly be described as substantial may depend upon how important that part is to the recognition and appreciation of the ‘artistic work’. If an ‘artistic work’ is designed to convey information, the importance of some part of it may fall to be judged by how far it contributes to conveying that information, but not, in my opinion, by how important the information may be which it conveys or helps to convey. What is protected is the skill and labour devoted to making the ‘artistic work’ itself, not the skill and labour devoted to developing some idea or invention communicated or depicted by the ‘artistic work’. The protection afforded by copyright is not, in my judgment, any broader as counsel submitted, where the ‘artistic work1 embodies a novel or inventive idea than it is where it represents a commonplace object or theme.’

Lord Diplock
[1983] FSR 512, [1982] RPC 183
Patents Act 1977 3, Patents Act 1949
England and Wales
CitedPrenn v Simmonds HL 1971
Backgroun Used to Construe Commercial Contract
Commercial contracts are to be construed in the light of all the background information which could reasonably have been expected to have been available to the parties in order to ascertain what would objectively have been understood to be their . .
CitedReardon Smith Line Ltd v Yngvar Hansen-Tangen (The ‘Diana Prosperity’) HL 1976
In construing a contract, three principles can be found. The contextual scene is always relevant. Secondly, what is admissible as a matter of the rules of evidence under this heading is what is arguably relevant, but admissibility is not decisive. . .
CitedClark v Adie HL 1877
The court should look to the ‘pith and marrow’ of the invention to see whether a patent infringement had occurred. For a claim be made for a ‘subordinate’ invention, it would have been necessary distinctly to claim it in the patent. . .

Cited by:
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In proceedings already heard the defendant had been found liable for patent infringement, and damages remained to be assessed. They claimed for loss of profits and royalties, and for damages through dilution of the market. The claimants said that to . .
CitedStena Rederi Aktiebolag and Another v Irish Ferries Ltd CA 6-Feb-2003
A ferry plied its way between Dublin and Holyhead, coming into English territorial waters three or four times a day, and for up to three hours on each occasion. The claimants asserted that the construction of the hull infringed its patent.
CitedKirin-Amgen Inc and others v Hoechst Marion Roussel Limited and others etc HL 21-Oct-2004
The claims arose in connection with the validity and alleged infringement of a European Patent on erythropoietin (‘EPO’).
Held: ‘Construction is objective in the sense that it is concerned with what a reasonable person to whom the utterance . .
ExplainedImprover Corporation v Remington Consumer Products Ltd ChD 1989
Protocol Tests For Onbviousness Set Out
The invention was based upon the discovery that an arcuate rod with slits, when rotated at high speed, would take the hair off the skin by means of the opening and closing of the slits. The claim was to a rod in the form of an ‘helical spring’ but . .
CitedPLG Research Ltd and Another v Ardon International Ltd and Others CA 1995
As to Catnic: ‘Lord Diplock was expounding the common law approach to the construction of a patent. This has been replaced by the approach laid down by the Protocol. If the two approaches are the same, reference to Lord Diplock’s formulation is . .
CitedAssidoman Multipack Ltd v The Mead Corporation 1995
In patents law, the Catnic approach accords with the Protocol. . .
CitedW L Gore and Associates Gmbh v Geox Spa PatC 7-Oct-2008
The claimants sought a declaration of non-infringement of four patents relating to waterproof fabrics for shoes.
Held: The patents could not be set as invalid for obviousness. . .
CitedDevenish Nutrition Ltd and others v Sanofi-Aventis SA (France) and others ChD 19-Oct-2007
The claimant sought damages for the losses it had suffered as a result of price fixing by the defendant companies in the vitamin market. The European Commission had already fined the defendant for its involvement.
Held: In an action for breach . .
CitedPLG Research Ltd and Another v Ardon International Ltd and Others ChD 25-Nov-1994
A patent infingement claim was met by the assertion that the material covered had been disclosed before the patent had been obtained. The court was asked as to the test of whether the information in a claim had been disclosed. Aldous J said: ‘Mr. . .
CitedMarley v Rawlings and Another SC 22-Jan-2014
A husband and wife had each executed the will which had been prepared for the other, owing to an oversight on the part of their solicitor; the question which arose was whether the will of the husband, who died after his wife, was valid. The parties . .
CitedEli Lilly v Actavis UK Ltd and Others SC 12-Jul-2017
The issue raised on this appeal and cross-appeal is whether three products manufactured by Actavis would infringe a patent whose proprietor is Lilly, namely European Patent (UK) No 1 313 508, and its corresponding designations in France, Italy and . .
CitedInterlego AG v Tyco Industries Inc PC 5-May-1988
How much new material for new copyright
(Hong Kong) Toy building bricks were manufactured by Lego in accordance with engineering drawings made for that purpose. One issue was whether new drawings made since 1972, altering the original drawings in various minor respects but added new . .
CitedWarner-Lambert Company Llc v Generics (UK) Ltd (T/A Mylan) and Another SC 14-Nov-2018
These proceedings raise, for the first time in the courts of the United Kingdom, the question how the concepts of sufficiency and infringement are to be applied to a patent relating to a specified medical use of a known pharmaceutical compound. Four . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Intellectual Property, Damages

Leading Case

Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.179765