Slaughters loses Abbott instruction to Freshfields

Slaughter and May

has been dumped by Abbott Laboratories for its forthcoming court fight over royalties against Cambridge Antibody Technology Group (Cat) and replaced by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

In recent weeks, Slaughters intellectual property (IP) litigation partner Susie Middlemiss has been replaced by Freshfields commercial litigation partner Ian Terry. It is understood that Abbott wanted a heavier-hitting litigation firm, particularly with Herbert Smith on the other side.

Middlemiss declined to comment and said Abbott was dealing with all inquiries. An Abbott spokesman said: “Abbott chose Freshfields because of its large litigation department and practice. Slaughters will continue to represent Abbott in other matters.”

Slaughters has acted for Abbott on corporate deals, such as its £164.7m purchase in June 2002 of a cardiovascular-related business from medical device company Biocompatibles International.

The loss is a blow to Slaughters, particularly as the litigation looks set to be one of the key IP fights of 2004. Abbott, which markets Humira – described as the most important drug to emerge out of the rheumatoid arthritis industry – contests the level of royalties it owes to Cat. Humira is the first drug approved by Cat.

Herbert Smith partner Andrew Rich, acting for Cat, has instructed heavyweight silks Geoffrey Vos QC of 3 Stone Buildings and David Kitchin QC of IP set 8 New Square. He instructed chancery barrister Vos because the case “revolves around the wording of a contract”.

However, one legal source said he had never seen Vos before on an
IP-related case. The fact that Vos is involved is further evidence that he is increasingly entering the sphere of the “generalist” barrister who can turn his hand to any area of commercial law, the source added. The best-known generalists are the bar’s highest earners, Lord Grabiner QC, Gordon Pollock QC and Jonathan Sumption QC.

Vos is also instructed on another IP case for The Beatles’ record label Apple Corp in its trademark dispute with Apple Computers. Grabiner is acting for Apple Computers.

The use of big-hitters Vos, instructed by Apple Corp’s longstanding lawyer, Eversheds partner Nick Valner, and Grabiner in this litigation reflects the high stakes.

Apple Corp claims that previous agreements state it has rightful use of the Apple brand in anything music-related. Apple Computers, which has branched into music through its online music service iTunes, claims that, under a 1991 agreement, it was granted exclusive rights to use the name in relation to data transmission services.