Sir Nicholas Pumfrey: Judge with expertise in patent law

Nicholas Richard Pumfrey, judge: born 22 May 1951; called to the Bar, Middle Temple 1975, Bencher 1998; Junior Counsel to HM Treasury (Patents) 1987-90; QC 1990; Judge of the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division 1997-2007; a Lord Justice of Appeal 2007; Kt 1997; died London 24 December 2007

Appointed a High Court judge of the Chancery Division in 1997, at the unusually early age of 46, and an appeal judge 10 years later, Nicholas Pumfrey brought to his work an incredible knowledge of technology, especially of electronics and computing: a rare and invaluable asset in a judge whose main work was in patents. He was a polymath and no branch of science was beyond his grasp. As a judge, he was a fair and friendly tribunal, though this had its drawbacks as he was inclined occasionally to explore side issues that his wide knowledge had brought to mind, making cases take rather longer than had originally been expected. His admirable, clear judgments sometimes went into details beyond the understanding of all save those thoroughly conversant with the science involved.

He was born, the son of a Bristol solicitor, in 1951 and educated in Oxford, first at St Edward's School and then at St Edmund Hall, where he took his degree in Physics before switching to Law. He was called to the Bar by the Middle Temple in 1975 and took silk in 1990. From 1987 to 1990 he was Junior Counsel to HM Treasury in patent matters.

An admirable and totally natural eccentric, he was the most clubbable of men, with a great circle of friends at the Bar, in his Inn, on the bench, and in the Garrick, where he regularly dined. He would freely give his advice and help to anyone who asked for it, not least his fellow judges. At the same time he was a very private person and kept his life very much to himself.

In his young days he was a cycling enthusiast, knowing everything about such esoteric matters as the balance of wheels and the construction of light-weight frames. He had little interest in cars and was content to do his motoring in a Deux Chevaux.

As he grew older, though, he took to riding a powerful BMW motorbike and perhaps this was partly responsible for his early death, as he became rather portly and less fit. It also made him look like a layman's idea of a judge: big, slightly shambolic, and with a mass of white hair.

He divided his time between his London flat (which housed many bicycles and old computers) and a house he had bought high on a mountain in the South of France, where he grew lavender, kept bees, made honey and was skilled at finding truffles, all of which he made good use of, as he was a wonderful cook. Here he entertained his friends and his numerous godchildren.

He was a very good lawyer and his early promotion to the Court of Appeal in November came as no surprise, though his early death prevented him from making his mark there, as he surely would have done. The burgeoning load of intellectual property cases would have found him in his element.

Julian Jeffs

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