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The UPC in London: a look at the location options

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The long road to the UPC

The long road to the UPC

In the last week or so discussion around the potential location of the UPC in London has surfaced again with news that the UPC Taskforce has informally approached a number of groups including IPLA, IP Federation, EPLAW and others for their views of a couple of potential sites for London’s UPC divisions. Full details of the two sites in question can be found here.

After reading the IPKat articles (1, 2) on the subject, IPcopy reached out to the UPC Taskforce and others to try and glean some additional information on the issue. This is presented below along with, for what it’s worth, this ipcopywriter’s personal views on the issue.

First up, the informal sightings made to the above groups regarding the central London location (Aviation House) and the Docklands location (Building 1000) are not going to result in a more formal presentation of the various options. The decision on the UPC location is a ministerial one and while the views of stakeholders are welcomed this will not lead to a formal consultation in the future. So, if you have strong views about the issue then you are encouraged to contact Jonathan England at jonathan.england@ipo.gov.uk.

The UPC Taskforce will, in particular, be interested to hear what you think are the most important priorities for selecting the site of the UPC in London in terms of facilities and location. There will of course be notable trade-offs between these two factors as discussed below.

Secondly, the two properties that have been discussed so far are apparently just two sample government-owned locations and the options being explored are wider than this. The Taskforce has checked on HM Courts and Tribunal Service capacity as well as the commercial market. It is noted however that the selection of the site of the Court will have to be made within the constraints of the Government’s estate policy in which all government owned or leased properties are prioritized.

According to the UKIPO’s Connect magazine for January the ministerial decision on the location is due by the Spring (see page 4 of the magazine here) so if you have an interest speak now or forever hold your peace.

Some thoughts on the options so far

The IPKat articles seem to have highlighted a preference for the central London location at Aviation House with arguments such as proximity to where a number of London firms are currently based, difficulty traveling to the Docklands site and potential erosion of local advantage all being flagged as justification for this central option. Proximity to tourist attractions and the possibility that London City Airport might close have also been raised.

In light of what I’ve read so far, here are my humble thoughts for your (dis)pleasure. Feel free to comment, flame on or contribute in the Comments section below.

As far as I’m concerned the facilities and the building itself should be the main factor for consideration. The chosen location will be one that London has to live with for, probably initially, 5-10 years. I would also suggest that the relative differences in the travel hassle factor between the two options is not as great as being portrayed. Furthermore, the travel options are going to noticeably improve in the near future when Crossrail is up and running.

On a facilities level the Docklands option seems to be the clear winner. More space, better configuration options, parking on site (not everyone is going to be flying in from abroad) etc. The full estate agent’s particulars can be found here. This building could, in my view, be turned into an impressive court building with everything that is required of such a facility.

The central London location on the other hand is noticeably smaller. Although it is around 20 metres deep (if I’m reading the plans correctly) there are a number of pillars that extend throughout the U shaped building. These pillars seem to be spaced at intervals of between 2-8 metres from one another which would significantly reduce the flexibility of the space. Personally, I can’t see that a courtroom with pillars in the middle of it is going to send out a particularly good impression.

The central London location is also based above Sainsbury’s. While Sainsbury’s slogan (“Live well for less”) of quality and value is one that the UPC will hopefully live up to, I’m not sure I want London’s branch of the UPC to be located above a supermarket. (“What you looking for, love? Fresh fruit’s on aisle 2, the bakery is in aisle 7 and Infringement and Validity is next to the frozen fish. Be careful though, there’s been a sinister spillage in the baby aisle”).

So, we’ve looked at the buildings. What about travel options? Central London would certainly be easier for any lawyers working within a few minutes walk of Aviation House but what about everyone else? Here are a few results from the TFL journey calculator and the Crossrail journey planner.

  • Heathrow (T1-3) to Holborn – 41-51 minutes depending on whether you use the Heathrow Express or not.
  • Heathrow (T1-3) to Royal Albert DLR (closest station to Building 1000) – 1 hour and 6 minutes to 1 hour 22 minutes depending on whether you use the Heathrow Express or not.
  • Holborn to Royal Albert – 32-35 minutes
  • Heathrow (T1-3) to Tottenham Court Road (Crossrail) – 28 minutes
  • Heathrow (T1-3) to Custom House (near Excel centre/Building 1000, Crossrail) – 44 minutes
  • Tottenham Court Road to Custom House – 15 minutes

So, compared to a commute from Heathrow to central London, the existing travel options add around 25-30 minutes to the journey when travelling on to Building 1000. Once Crossrail comes into play the Heathrow to Docklands transfer will be down to the current central London travel time. Getting to Building 1000 from central London via Crossrail will only take 15 minutes.

Arrival via City Airport will also be possible though. Although City Airport connects to a limited number of destinations compared to Heathrow, it does connect to other airport hubs such as Zurich. Anyone that has ever flown to City Airport will know how great the experience can be and this will be a fantastic way to arrive if you can get the flight options to work. I also note that City connects to Dublin, Belfast, Edinburgh and Glasgow so visitors from these other UK & Ireland locations will be well served.

As you may have guessed I prefer the Building 1000 option but before I go here are a few more thoughts:

  • Erosion of local advantage if the Court is in Docklands. I struggle to see this argument. Central London firms would still be within 30 minutes of the Court which would seem to be an easier journey than any other European attorney would have, apart from those located in Canary Wharf!
  • Showcasing London. Would we lose the option to showcase the attractions of London if the Court was located in Docklands? This may surprise you given my admirable fence sitting above but I don’t think so. The location is not at the ends of the earth. Visitors from further afield would also have the option of staying in central London (perhaps close to their law firm as well as the tourist sites) and then traveling out to the court. I doubt many people are going to rock up at the Court room from an international destination on the same day they fly.
  • London City Airport might close. This argument seems to stem from an article written by the Think Tank, New Economics Foundation (NEF) (‘the UK’s leading think tank” apparently), in April last year. It appears to be a proposal that has originated from the Think Tank themselves and doesn’t appear to linked to anything official. By way of balance here’s a link to an article in the FT that came out a day or so later.
  • Crossrail is years away. The unitary patent system was meant to go live at the beginning of last year; this is not a project that is a stranger to delays! The current “go live” date for the unitary patent system seems to be early 2016. Recent presentations (e.g. this one from of the UKIPO) suggest that there may be a lag of 6 months between the UPC Agreement being ratified by the 13 states required and the Court actually opening its doors. That puts us in the middle of 2016 at the earliest. Given the UK’s ratification timetable has slipped to the end of this year (see page 4 here) then I would not be surprised if the UPC timetable slipped further. I’d even go as far as saying I’d eat my hat (disclaimer: I don’t have a hat) if there aren’t more delays to the UPC “go live” date. Any further delays of course will close the gap between Crossrail and the UPC systems coming on line.
  • The ExCeL Centre. ExCeL London is “the UK’s most flexible event space and the home to London’s only International Convention Centre ICC London”. ExCeL is a stone’s throw from the potential Docklands location and seems to be doing OK. Presumably the UPC could cope with this location as well! It’s interesting to note that the ExCeL centre highlights its proximity to the sights and attractions of the capital as a positive whereas the discussion regarding the Building 1000 location seems to have presented the exact same information in a much more negative light.

Mark Richardson 12 January 2015


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