DLA scoops NTL patent case

DLA has been appointed to act on a forthcoming patent litigation case by telecoms giant NTL.

The case is at a sensitive stage so NTL was unable to disclose details. It is the first time that NTL has instructed the firm to work on a major piece of patent litigation, although DLA has done a small amount of intellectual property (IP) work for NTL in the past.

NTL’s main external adviser is Travers Smith Braithwaite, while Charles Russell is usually instructed on litigation matters.

But NTL has awarded its latest piece of patent litigation to DLA. The appointment comes after IP partner Michael Bywell, who joined the firm in 1997 from Pinsent Curtis, went to see NTL group legal director Robert Mackenzie.

Mackenzie says he was impressed by Bywell and awarded the firm the work on that basis. He declines to give details of the case.

The win is a real coup for DLA. NTL, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, has a market capitalisation of £7.6bn.

The Patents Court aims to deal with patent litigation within 12 to 15 months, although cases can vary. Big cases can also require large teams of lawyers.

DLA national head of IP George Godar says the firm is still discussing with all the relevant parties how long the case will last. After that has been decided, a team will be appointed to run it. It is expected that the firm will bill monthly while working on the case.

Godar says: “Patent litigation is intellectually stimulating, particularly in new technology areas, and then they’re always complex.”

But Mackenzie points out that it is not guaranteed that NTL will instruct DLA again. “I cannot say this is a relationship and that we will pour money into their coffers. I can never guarantee work on that level,” he says.

NTL’s relationship with Travers Smith started in 1996, when the firm stepped in on a deal where Ashurst Morris Crisp, the telecoms group’s usual adviser, was conflicted out. Although the deal collapsed at the last minute, Travers Smith has picked up the bulk of NTL’s work ever since.

Charles Russell used to do NTL’s property work until the group brought the majority of the work in-house. But it still has a strong relationship with Charles Russell for litigation work. Charles Russell declined to comment.