Sir Douglas Falconer: Judge expert in patent law
Friday 08 February 2008
Douglas Falconer was a patents judge in the Chancery Division of the High Court from 1981 to 1989. He was always courteous – every trial before him was conducted in an atmosphere of calm, every argument scrupulously noted, every fact mastered. At the end there was a meticulously reasoned judgment and a just result. His judgments were sometimes long delayed, but once they were delivered, it was clear that all the facts had been completely covered and carefully considered.
He was a very sound lawyer, but not an innovative one. In one trial, in which he had been urged to make some rather revolutionary new law, he is said to have observed, "I'm all for innovation, but it has never been done before". Innovation in the judiciary can sometimes be dangerous.
Douglas William Falconer was born in South Shields in 1914. He read Physics at Durham University, and on graduation became a schoolmaster, first in Newcastle and then at Bromsgrove School in Worcestershire, where he remained until the outbreak of the Second World War. He was commissioned in the East Yorkshire Regiment and fought in France, being one of the last off the beaches at Dunkirk, and succeeded in bringing back with him practically the whole of his platoon. He then became an instructor and played an important part in training and planning for D-Day, for which work he was appointed military MBE.
On demobilisation he returned to Bromsgrove but wanted a more challenging life. He decided to read for the Bar and joined the Middle Temple. He had no money of his own, but his wife was able to help and he was called to the Bar in 1950. His scientific background led him to the Patent Bar and he became a pupil of Guy Aldous in Kew Shelley's chambers, where he remained throughout his professional career.
He made his mark as a junior and is still remembered for the exceptional quality of his paperwork: his pleadings and the preparation of his cases were second to none. He laid the foundation for that attention to detail that was to become his forte. His pupils included Guy's son William, who was to become a Lord Justice of Appeal. He took silk in 1967 and became a bencher of his inn in 1973.
Falconer acted as an editor of Terrell on the Law of Patents, the leading publication in the field of UK patent law and litigation practice, and he was appointed to exercise the appellant jurisdiction of the Board of Trade under the Trade Marks Act, an office he held from 1970 to 1981. He served on the Senate of the Four Inns of Court and was Chairman of the Patent Bar Association (now the Intellectual Property Bar Association) from 1971 to 1980.
When Guy Aldous retired, Falconer became head of chambers, which were then at a rather low ebb with only four members, and built it up to be one of the most successful in its field. In 1981 he was invited to become a High Court judge in the Chancery Division and said he would give it five years. Fortunately he gave it longer and retired in 1989.
Unhappily his wife Joan died in the same year, but he was able to enjoy his deep interest in the theatre and music, combining the two with a love of opera. Almost to the end he was a regular visitor to Glyndebourne. In his youth he had played the organ and in his retirement he taught himself the piano, becoming very proficient. There was always a grand piano in his room. In 1997 he married Constance Drew, a distant relation by marriage, with whom he was very happy.
Douglas William Falconer, judge: born South Shields, Co Durham 20 September 1914; MBE 1946; called to the Bar, Middle Temple 1950, Bencher 1973; QC 1967; Kt 1981; Judge of the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division 1981-89; Chairman, Patent Bar Association 1971-80; married 1941 Joan Argent (died 1989; one son, one daughter), 1997 Constance Drew; died Cirencester, Gloucestershire 18 December 2007.
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