‘Huge victory’ for family firm fighting Corus

14 November 2008

A small Welsh company has triumphed in a legal battle with steel giant Corus. The Court of Appeal upheld a ruling, marking the end of the four-year legal wrangling and upholding a ruling that Corus infringed a valid patent held by Qual-Chem of Port Talbot.

The Welsh company’s former managing director, Keith Harris, 70, brought the case against the company formerly known as British Steel, now owned by Indian conglomerate Tata. The ruling has left Corus with a liability to pay compensation and a legal bill of over £1m.

Neil Campbell, a member of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys and a partner at Frank B. Dehn, who obtained the Patent for Qual-Chem, said: ‘This case shows that, with a strong patent and the right legal team, small companies can take on big multinationals and win.’

The patent is for a manufacturing process that Qual-Chem says improved the quality and reduced the cost of producing the high-quality steel made by Corus at Port Talbot for at least four years. According to Qual-Chem, it had all its contracts cancelled in 2002, after Corus forced the small company to transfer the technology to another supplier. At the time Qual-Chem employed eight staff and managers. The loss of its main contract forced the business to close.

At a previous Patents County Court hearing, Judge Michael Fysh had ruled that the family firm's patent was valid and had been infringed by Corus. Corus appealed against that decision, but High Court Judge Lord Justice Jacob agreed with the Patents County Court. The ruling has left Corus with the liability to pay what is likely to be substantial compensation to 70-year-old Mr Harris, plus a legal bill of more than £1m. Corus has already been ordered to make an interim payment of £550,000 towards Qual-Chem’s legal costs.

‘This is a huge victory for us. We're delighted by the judgement. The court below and the Court of Appeal rejected every single point made by Corus and agreed that we had invented and patented a process and that this patent had then been infringed,’ said Harris, of Mayals, Swansea.

‘Had Corus won this long and complex legal fight my family would have lost everything we'd ever worked for.

‘We’ve had tremendous support from relatives and friends and we compliment our legal team for their outstanding performance.’

Qual-Chem’s patent attorneys are London-based Frank B. Dehn & Co, who worked on the case with solicitor Hugh Hitchcock, of Swansea firm Douglas-Jones Mercer.

‘Keith Harris’s success in defending his patent shows how valuable good IP advice can be,’ said Campbell. ‘Some people argue that for small companies it’s not worth patenting because big companies can afford to ignore them. This case proves that a patent is invaluable in defending a small company’s intellectual property rights.’

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