Resolving legal disputes through litigation can be costly and time consuming. A typical lawsuit generally requires filing a claim and a reply, discovery of both parties, and finally a trial.
In an effort to increase access to justice by reducing the cost and complexity of litigation, the BC provincial court has implemented two alternative litigation processes:
(i) the Small Claims Court; and
(ii) the BC Civil Resolution Tribunal.
These alternative processes may provide simplified and less costly options for individuals looking to resolve intellectual property disputes.
BC Provincial Small Claims Court
The BC Provincial Small Claims Court provides a simplified, litigant friendly court process for resolving disputes under $35,000. The Small Claims Court may hear issues involving:
- debt or damages;
- recovery of personal property or opposing claims to personal property; and
- performance of agreements about personal property or services.
The jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court includes issues related to copyright and breach of contract, including breach of confidentiality. The Small Claims Court may also have circumscribed jurisdiction over claims relating to patents and industrial designs, but is expressly excluded from hearing matters related to trademarks and cannot grant injunctions.
Resolving a matter through litigation in Small Claims Court is simplified over BC Supreme Court, primarily due to the streamlined discovery and trial processes. BC Supreme Court requires that both parties disclose to each other any documents in their possession or control which may be potentially relevant to any matters at issue. BC Supreme Court also permits by right each party to examine one individual from the other party for a full day, and additional individuals and/or for additional time by order or consent of the parties.
Small Claims Court has no default requirement for the parties to disclose documents to each other. Furthermore, there is no right in Small Claims Court to examine the other party. This truncated discovery process simplifies and streamlines the proceeding, saving costs. However, the risk with the streamlined discovery process is that a party may not have all the facts available to them, either to prove their case, or to disprove another party’s.
BC Civil Resolution Tribunal
The BC Civil Resolution Tribunal (BC CRT) is an online tribunal for resolving disputes under $5,000 or involving strata property. The BC CRT is directed to self-represented parties, and aims to resolve disputes faster and with less expense than a traditional court proceeding. As a part of the BC Provincial Small Claims Court, the BC CRT may only hear intellectual property issues related to copyright or breach of contract (e.g. confidentiality agreements). The BC CRT further simplifies the processes over the Small Claims Court by replacing an in-person trial with online submissions and a decision by the BC CRT. While the BC CRT has only been operating since 2017, there has been at least one reported decision involving copyright (see Pereira v. Hirsch Creek Golf and Winter Club et al, 2018 BCCRT 136).
Choosing a Venue
Whether the BC CRT, the Small Claims Court, or the BC Supreme Court is the best venue for your claim will depend on:
- the nature of the claim;
- the value of the claim; and
- whether you prefer a robust or a simplified discovery and trial.
The decision of whether or not to file a claim, and where to file it, is a complex and important decision, which is best made with the assistance of an experienced lawyer.