The Court’s decision rested on whether the patents provided outstanding benefit to the employer’s undertaking. 

By Deborah J. Kirk and Catherine Marie Hughes

On 23 October, the UK Supreme Court (UKSC) handed down its highly anticipated ruling in Shanks v Unilever [2019] UKSC 45 — the conclusion to an extensive campaign by Professor Shanks to obtain compensation for an invention he created in 1982, during the course of his employment with Unilever. The UKSC upheld Shanks’ appeal from the lower courts and in a unanimous decision ruled that Shanks was entitled to £2 million compensation from Unilever.

Section 40 of the Patents Act 1977 (the Act) makes provision for the payment of compensation to employee inventors in certain circumstances. Namely, where the employee makes an invention for which a patent has been granted and that patent is considered to be of outstanding benefit to the employer (taking into account things such as the size and nature of the employer’s undertaking), the court may award the employee compensation in the form of a fair share of the benefit received by the employer from the patents, with the amount determined under Section 41 of the Act.

By Catherine Drinnan and Shaun Thompson

The recent furore over the collapse of high street retailer BHS has caused fierce debate over whether companies, or their ultimate owners, are responsible for the upkeep of a pension plan. For private equity, the debate has important implications.

In the US, pensions have also been hitting the headlines. In March, two funds of American private equity firm Sun Capital were found to be liable for bankrupt portfolio company Scott Brass’ pensionPEViews July 2016 Pensions deficit. A court ruled that Sun’s funds were jointly responsible for Scott Brass’ pension plan, as they had been directly involved in managing the company.

The ruling considered the fact Sun Capital employees had been appointed in the majority of the director positions at Scott Brass. The ruling also considered the purpose of Sun’s funds, to sell on Scott Brass for a profit.