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British Gas Smart Meters Roll-Out Survives Patent Infringement Claim

Patent infringement claims can come out of the blue and it is vital before embarking on a business venture to make sure that your plans do not conflict with others’ rights. In a case that illustrated this point, British Gas (BG) saw off one such claim that had the potential to derail proposals to install 16 million smart meters across the country.

BG had entered into a £600 million contract with a view to rolling out smart meter technology nationwide. However, the proprietors of a patent that dated back to 2000 launched High Court proceedings on the basis that the project would infringe their rights and that royalties were payable in respect of BG’s past, current and future use of smart meters. The patent had changed hands for just £160,000 in 2014 but the proprietors’ claim against BG had been valued at up to £30 million.

The Court accepted that BG’s smart meters would have infringed the patent, had it been valid. However, in ruling in the utility company’s favour, it found that the adoption and use of unique numbers to identify specific meters, for the purpose of directing pre-payments to the right meter via a wireless system, was not an inventive step in the light of prior developments in the field. The patent being invalid, it was revoked and the proprietors’ infringement claim was dismissed.