In the case of Shanks-v-Unilever Plc the Supreme Court had to consider what amounts to an “outstanding benefit” for the purposes of determining whether an employee who has made an invention belonging to an employer for which a patent has been granted is entitled to compensation pursuant to s.40(1) of the Patents Act 1977?
During the course of his employment with Unilever, Professor Shanks invented a device designed to measure glucose concentrations in blood, serum or urine.
The rights to the invention belonged to Unilever, which subsequently obtained patents in respect of the invention. Years later, these patents were licensed to companies operating in the blood glucose testing field. Professor Shanks brought a claim for employee compensation against Unilever pursuant to s.40 (1) of the Patents Act 1977. The Intellectual Property Office concluded that the financial benefit to Unilever from licensing the patent rights was £24.5m, but that this was not an “outstanding” benefit as required by the terms of s.40(1). This conclusion was upheld by the High Court and Court of Appeal.
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