Smart meter patent holder’s hopes of royalties from British Gas are extinguished

News Article

A company which had sought to turn up the heat under British Gas, by demanding tens of millions of pounds in royalties, has been unsuccessful after a court ruled their patent lacked an “inventive step.”

British Gas successfully fought off the patent infringement claim by the holder of a smart meter patent.

London’s High Court was asked to rule on whether Meter-Tech was right to claim that allocating a unique number to a wireless utility meter for allocating pre-payments was an infringement of its patent.

Judge, Mr Justice Daniel Alexander, ruled that it was not, adding that the patent lacked an “inventive step”.

Lawyers acting for British Gas had claimed that it would be natural to use a unique number on each of its smart meters to identify which customers had paid for their supply. Meter-Tech argued that British Gas should have used the customer’s account number as the main reference point, claiming that its patent covered the use of the smart meter serial number in that context and that British Gas was therefore infringing its patent.

In his ruling, the judge stated: “I much prefer the arguments of British Gas. One of the most natural things to do is therefore to use an identifier which specifically identifies the meter in question since that is the destination for the credit.”

He added: “The fact that the suppliers may not have had complete records of the meter serial numbers does not make it inventive to make use of such numbers to identify the meters.”

In his judgment, Judge Alexander noted that Meter-Tech’s parent company Vanclare had purchased the patent for £160,000 in 2014, and in subsequent correspondence had referred to it as a “£30million infringement claim”.

BJ Chong, a partner and intellectual property expert with Palmers, said: “Patent law can be extremely complex and the fact that Meter-Tech’s case went all the way to the High Court is evidence of the difficulties that companies face when trying to determine who is on the right side of IP law. In this case the judge found that the serial numbering system devised for use on the smart meter by the claimants was not in itself sufficiently “inventive” to succeed.

“Any company who feels their IP rights have been infringed or is facing a potential claim involving breach of patent or trade mark rights, should seek expert legal advice. Often a strongly worded solicitor’s letter is all that is required but where the other party refuses to back down, litigation is often necessary to ensure that your business interests are protected.”

For advice and more information on Palmers’ Intellectual Property legal services, please contact us.