Autism charity's patent court case dismissed as 'harassment of competitors'

The Patents County Court at the Rolls Building in London rejects Spectrum's claim that former employees used confidential information to help set up a new company

Rolls Building
Rolls Building

An autism charity could face a claim for costs of more than £150,000 after losing a patent court case it brought against a rival provider.

Spectrum, which runs specialist homes in Devon and Cornwall, claimed that three former staff members and their new employer, Green Light PBS, were in breach of confidence for using confidential financial information, knowledge of its email system and employees' names and addresses to help them set up the new company. It also accused Green Light of using information relating to rent paid for leases and the identity of its service users and unidentified confidential information in an approach to Cornwall Council.

But the 16-month case was struck out at the Patents County Court at the Rolls Buildings in London on 24 September by Recorder Douglas Campbell. His judgment said that all of the claims relating to the misuse of information were nothing more than "unsupported speculation" and the claimant had failed to produce any documents that "substantiate the allegations of misuse".

"I infer that the purpose of this litigation is harassment of competitors and former employees, rather than the protection of the claimant's rights," the ruling said. "At every stage the claimant's approach appears to have been calculated to keep the litigation going rather than to conduct it in a reasonable, cost-effective and proportionate manner."

The recorder also ruled that the case had been "abuse of process" but granted the claimant the right to appeal on this aspect.

Jo Pyrah, managing director of Green Light, said: "We’re delighted that the case has been struck out. The case was purely speculative. It has taken 16 months to resolve and we want to draw a line under it and get on with running our business."

Pyrah said that the legal costs could run to more than £150,000 but so far it had not decided to try to reclaim them because the final total was not yet known.

Spectrum is registered with the Charity Commission as the Devon and Cornwall Autistic Community Trust. It had an income of £10.5m last year.

In a statement, Mary Simpson, chief executive of Spectrum, said: "Naturally, we are disappointed by Recorder Campbell’s decision, but pleased that he should have expressed doubt in his own decision by granting us permission to appeal. We will now review the position with our advisers before pursuing that appeal."

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