There was always bound to be speculation about a boutique firm’s market position in Europe after Brexit, and most competitors have looked towards Powell Gilbert as a test case of the viability of independent London practices. Going into 2021, the firm finds its exceptionally strong position unchanged, with high levels of activity throughout the corona-era. The firm is, together with Bristows, the undisputed market leader in UK patent litigation.
Once again, some outsiders’ view of the firm being overly-reliant on its name partners was not reflected in the case load or successes of the firm, including that of some younger partners. And even if Penny Gilbert and Tim Powell are still seen as most responsible for the firm’s reputation in the market, there is more than enough quality in the younger partner ranks to ensure the firm’s market-leading position over the coming years.
The name partners’ reputation remains strongest in life science disputes such as for Actavis, Biogen, Edwards Lifescience or Kymab. But probably the most important development of the recent past has been the manner in which the younger generation around Bethan Hopewell have built reputations in a broader area of industries: Tim Whitfield in life sciences, Zoë Butler in the mobile communication fields and Peter Damerell in both areas are just three examples.
The all-important contacts to US clients and law firms has not shown any let-up, and it remains a vital part of the firm’s practice, given its leading role in co-ordination of pan-European litigation. It is this work, of course, which international firms will be most eager to prise away from Powell Gilbert, and it is thus one of those areas of the practice where spreading client contacts throughout the partnership will be of central importance. As the coordination work for Philip Morris in the bitter dispute with BAT over e-cigarettes shows, these network connections still function excellently. But they could come under pressure if the UPC should actually start – but now without the UK.
That the firm has confidence in its future, despite any pressure which London market might come under, was demonstrated by the investment in a relatively large amount of young associates over the past year. This lies in contrast to other firms’ reticence in recruiting during corona. It demonstrates once again the advantages of a small, manoeuvrable partnership which can react quickly to market developments.
That growth, however, has another side: with some 40 lawyers at the firm (including litigation support) it is hardly pertinent to call Powell Gilbert a boutique any more. And there are plenty of voices in the market which throw up questions as to whether the hands-off management style is suited to the considerable strategic challenges facing all London firms in 2021. The insistence that adjunct areas, such as antitrust, can be as well served with cooperation with barristers remains an anomaly in the market and is not seen as representative of best practice.
Outstanding international reputation for litigation with deep bench of lawyers. Partners are at the forefront of developments in pharmaceuticals as well as telecommunications.
The London-based boutique has made much out of its independent status and its strong relationships to other leading patent firms across Europe. Strong relations to US and Chinese companies have allowed Powell Gilbert to specialise in pan-European coordination of cases, including running the UK cases.
The major question facing the firm, as well as other independent UK practices is what the role of the practice can be in the post-Brexit world – especially if the UPC starts without the UK.
A great deal of the reputation for this coordinating role stems from the client skills and industry knowledge of the partners in question, and as such should not be overly affected by Brexit. Certainly, this is what Powell Gilbert’s lawyers say. On the other hand, the firm does not operate in a vacuum, and international firms as well as continental boutiques will seek to use their continental European practices as leverage to prise away US clients from the firm.
If a continental UPC were to launch, Powell Gilbert and other UK boutiques would no longer have direct access to the court. This is a significant disadvantage. What is certain is that the role of independent boutiques will no longer be regarded as self-evident. It will therefore take considerably more time and partner attention to strengthen ties with continental boutiques and to maintain the firm’s leading role in pan-European litigation.
Zoë Butler (“absolutely brilliant against Unwired Planet, a stand-out junior partner”, competitor), Peter Damerell, Penny Gilbert (“head of a strong team”, competitor), Bethan Hopewell (“highly specialised and class lawyer”, competitor), Siddharth Kusumakar (“great for life sciences”, competitor), Ari Laakkonen (“highly recommended for complex patent litigation cases”, “sharpest mind in the industry”, competitors), Tim Powell (“really solid performer; doubles as advocate when no barrister is around,” competitor), Tim Whitfield (“up and coming; good on telecoms”, “litigator par excellence, very impressive in court”, competitors), Alex Wilson (“outstanding lawyer with excellent strategic skills”, competitor)
11 partners, 17 associates, 1 of counsel
Broad range of patent law. Particularly strong in litigation including revocation cases and EPO proceedings (both in the UK and pan-European coordination of cases). Strong client base in pharmaceuticals, mobile technology and engineering.
Litigation: Philip Morris (defendant) against British American Tobacco over e-cigarette technology (including pan-European coordination); Huawei (defendant) against Unwired Planet on patent disputes and FRAND trial before the UK Supreme Court; Lenovo and Xiaomi (defendants) against IPCom in preliminary injunction and infringement proceedings over SEP and FRAND; CommScope (claimant) against Solid over antenna systems; HEVC Advance (defendant) against Vestel on trial over abuse of dominant position including FRAND issues; Kymab (defendant) against Regeneron in infringement dispute before the UK Supreme Court and EPO proceedings over therapeutic antibody development; Actavis (defendant) against Warner-Lambert on second medical use of pregabalin patent and damages; Biogen (claimant) on European litigation strategy for Humira biosimilar as well as in UK litigation against Abbvie; GSK (claimant) on launch of HIF-PHI drug daprodustat including revocation claim against Fibrogen’s HIF-PHI patent; Royalty Pharma (defendant) against Boehringer Ingelheim on royalty payments due under a patent licence agreement regarding DP-IV inhibitor linagliptin; Edwards Lifesciences (claimant) on multinational dispute against Meril Life Sciences patents on transcatheter heart valves (including pan-European coordination); Edwards Lifescience (defendant) against Abbott on heart valve repair medical devices (settled); Coloplast (claimant) against Salts Healthcare on infringement and revocation of patent for ostomy bag; Saint Gobain (claimant) against 3M in UK patent revocation claim regarding patent for abraisive particles.