The High Court has held that Cropton Brewery infringed Samuel Smith’s registered trade mark for a stylised white rose device and committed passing off by using one of its labels incorporating a white rose device for “Yorkshire Warrior” beer: Samuel Smith Old Brewery (Tadcaster) v Philip Lee (trading as “Cropton Brewery”) [2011] EWHC 1879 (Ch).

In the introductory paragraph of the judgment, Arnold J said that the dispute was one which ought to have been capable of settlement out of court a long time ago. Instead, it had grown into a case the costs of which were out of all proportion to what was at stake. “One explanation for this is Yorkshire pride; but I fear that the English legal system bears a measure of responsibility as well.”In a postscript to the judgment, the judge said that he considered that the case should have been referred to mediation at an early stage. “The legal process appears to have caused the parties to become entrenched in their positions rather than seeking common ground. I suspect that the costs will themselves quickly have become an obstacle to settlement…. in future disputes of this nature the possibility of mediation should be explored as soon as is practicable.”

The case provides a helpful illustration of the role ADR has to play in the resolution of intellectual property disputes, which have in some quarters, largely historically now, been perceived as unsuitable for mediation.