Marie Killick V Pye – battle for damages
The case of Marie Louise Killick v Pye Radio in December 1957 made legal history. The case came before Justice Lloyd-Jacob in the Chancery Division of the Royal Courts of Justice, London. It lasted for over many days and judgement was given in Marie’s favour on 21 December – ruling that Pye Radio had infringed her Letters Patent 603606 for a truncated record stylus. The court made an injunction to prevent Pye from manufacturing her stylus and instructed that any remaining styli be destroyed. She was awarded full heads of damages and costs.
Pye appealed to the Appeal Court. This came before three Judges, who upheld the lower court’s judgement that Pye had infringed Marie’s patent. There only remained for Marie to have her damages claim assessed and to restart manufacture of her stylus Sapphox.
A bitter pill
After Marie’s victory in the law courts it only remained for her legal team, together with accountants, to gather the evidence for her claim to damages. Damages not only entailed the number of styli Pye had manufactured and sold, there were also their subcontractors who had manufactured the stylus for Pye. There was her own loss of earnings from a growing and successful business, the loss of her home – which she was forced to sell to finance the lawsuit – and her children’s loss of education due to the constant moving. There was the loss of her world patents and pending applications in other countries not yet covered. Because of Pye’s infringement, Marie had not been in the financial position to take measures to have these lost patents reinstated.
These were therefore busy times for Marie. There was a lot of pressure to get the job done. She was also trying to obtain a loan from the bank, on the security of her damages claim, to raise finances to restart manufacture of Sapphox. Her solicitor, Mr Dicks – who had steered the case into the law court since September 1953 and continued to represent her when Pye appealed – decided to withdraw from the case. He gave the reason as being unable to deal with the pressure that the damages claim entailed.
Marie had at this time been the recipient of anonymous phone calls telling her that she would not receive a penny piece in damages. A secretary she had engaged to help with the assessment of her damages was followed one evening, so he took refuge in a nightclub and rang Marie for advice as to what to do. She told him to call a cab and ask the cab driver to escort him from the nightclub to the cab. Fearing for her and her children’s safety when intruders were spotted on the roof of the hotel that the suite overlooked, she hired private detectives to investigate matters. They reported to her that her solicitor, Mr Dicks, was being followed.
Whether Mr Dicks’ decision to withdraw from the damages claim was due not only to the pressure of work but also because he felt threatened we cannot say, but his withdrawal certainly was the cause for the delay in Marie’s damages claim. New solicitors had to be found and that in itself caused a delay. They had no knowledge of the case. They were very keen to represent her and then, after contacting Mr Dicks for guidance, they would inform Marie that on consideration they no longer wished to represent her. This soon formed a pattern and Marie didn’t know what the problem was. However, when she confronted Mr Dicks, as unbelievable as it would seem, he told her that he was in love with her and couldn’t bear to see anyone else handle her affairs. We can’t tell whether he was speaking the truth or whether, as previously stated, he had other reasons for putting off any new solicitor. Whatever the true reason, he has carried them to his grave.
The result was that Marie was in severe financial difficulties. Legal Aid were complaining about the number of solicitors taking up and then removing themselves from the case, and they threatened to remove the legal aid certificate to finance the damages claim. Pye in fact objected to them granting her legal aid, saying it was not in the Public Interest for them to do so!
September 1959: bankruptcy threatens
During Marie’s ten-year battle with Pye, she had run up debts – both legal and living expenses. The personal debts were always negotiated with the lender, such that on receipt of her damages from Pye she would settle the debt. The family had been living in Brighton at the time the infringement case came to court and she had lived there for two years on the understanding that the balance of the rent outstanding would be settled on the receipt of her damages. Mr Thomas, the landlord, decided that as the damages had not as yet been settled, he would take Marie to court for the debt. She was unable to pay and he decided to take out an application for Bankruptcy against her.
Now without legal aid or a solicitor to pursue her claim, she was in a very invidious situation. Other creditors decided to put their claims before the Official Receiver and matters were looking very bleak for Marie.
Determined not to be robbed of her damages and the financial means to restart manufacture, she decided to go abroad for a loan, as the banks in England were unwilling to facilitate a loan while the damages claim was outstanding. This would have freed her from the threat of bankruptcy and enabled her to finance the damages claim and restart manufacture.
Marie reached out to the Banque de Paris for a loan of £25,000 and a meeting was set up with them to this end. She flew out to Paris and the bank was in agreement to providing the loan on the security of a 1/4 share interest in her British Patent.
Unfortunately, whilst there, Marie received a request from the Official Receiver for her to attend a creditors meeting on the 9th September. She was informed by a colleague helping her, who had opened the letter in her absence, that to fail to do so would mean there was a possibility that a warrant for her arrest would be issued.
Marie was forced to return to England before the details for the loan had been completed. She did, however, bring with her a copy of the draft agreement to show the Official Receiver, who she felt sure would agree to her returning to France to complete the deal and settle her debts. Below is the draft copy of the agreement with the Banque de Paris, setting out their intention to advance Marie £25,000 on security of a quarter interest in her British Patent.
Unfortunately, as related in the book A Revolution in Sound, the Official Receiver failed to inform the creditors of the bank’s draft agreement, preferring to direct the creditors to have Marie declared bankrupt. In her fury Marie, waving the draft agreement at the creditors, stood up and declared that she had the means, given a few more days to fly back to Paris, to conclude the deal to raise funds to settle her debts in full. Mr Parker, the Official Receiver, told her to shut up and sit down and advised the creditors’ committee to settle Marie’s damage claim with Pye Radio. It is hard to understand why he should fail the creditors, who would only get a small percentage of the debt if he settled with Pye for just over £4,000 when Marie would have secured the means to settle her debts in full and have monies remaining to pursue her damages and restart manufacture. It can only be supposed that the Official Receiver’s hostile attitude to Marie stemmed from his belief of what Pye were telling him; that they only owed Marie Killick a few thousand pounds as opposed to the millions that she claimed. The fact that Pye Radio had taken out a debenture with the Prudential Society for £2,500,000 to ensure their retailers would not be out of pocket if Marie had sued them for selling Pye’s infringed styli, was something that the Official Receiver chose to ignore.
Marie’s three-year battle with the Official Receiver
Forced to look for help outside the British banks to finance her hopes of manufacturing, settling her debts and concluding her damages, Marie looked to Mr Ten Eyck an American attorney to look for finance abroad.
The damages claim dragged on, with the matter now being with the Official Receiver, who had full control of her assets. Marie, in view of his hostility towards her, had taken the Official Receiver to court in an attempt to prevent the settlement of the damages based only on what Pye had stated in court: that they had only manufactured 50,000 of the infringed styli.
The letter below from Marie’s solicitor deals with Marie’s attempt to prevent the Official Receiver from settling her damage claim. He writes to her as Mrs Kay, an assumed name she used in an attempt to prevent Pye Radio from knowing, through the Official Receiver, where she was living. This was done with the knowledge of the Judge, due to threats and pressures put on her when going under the name of Killick.
Pertinent extracts from the above letter:
“Recently Mrs Killick was notified that the Official Receiver proposed to accepting a sum from Pye Limited in settlement of the Judgement to which we have referred, which she considers grossly inadequate, and we may say the, from the information as has been made available to us, we are in complete agreement with her in this respect.”
“We now turn to the subject matter of your letter under reply, namely the offer of Mr Richie and Mr Van den Eyden. Your letter and this offer were placed in evidence at the hearing yesterday in the hope that the Official Receiver would agree to the whole matter being adjourned to enable Mrs Killick to enter into the Contract and, in due course, pay off her creditors. Both he and his advisers were, however, adamant, and refused to agree to a suggestion by the Judge that his Judgement should be deferred even for one month.”
“We then asked the Official Receiver whether he would agree to Mrs Killick such an offer, whereupon he stated that he would consider the matter ‘but only if a draft of the actual Contract to be entered into was submitted to him before the Court gives Judgement with the next ten to fourteen days. His solicitors stated that, upon receipt of such draft Contract they would give the matter priority and we see no reason why the Official Receiver should not approve the document, provided it reaches him in time and the matter is thus one of extreme urgency.”
“The main difficulty is, however, that no document can be submitted to the Official Receiver without the instruction of Mrs Killick and we rather gather from her that no such instructions will be forthcoming. She feels that there is a tie up between the Official Receiver and Pye Limited and other Companies of the Combine and she quite reasonably does not wish details of her new Contract to reach these companies.
If Mrs Killick will agree to the draft Contract being submitted to the Official Receiver he could be asked not to disclose the contents to Pye Limited, but we are bound to say that as the Company is one of the creditors of Mrs Killick, the probability would appear to be that, in fact, Pye Limited will lean the content of it.”
Determined to battle on
In a desperate attempt to prevent the Official Receiver from his planned settlement with Pye Radio, Marie engaged an American attorney to try to find a buyer for the remaining term of the British Patent. She would need the Official Receiver to agree the sale – but how could he refuse? However, as Pye had bought one of her debts, they would be informed of any attempt to sell her patent and put her back in funds. Above is the telegram to Justice Lloyd-Jacob, the trial judge who had awarded Marie judgement in her favour.
Marie’s attempts to sell the patent came to nothing once the Official Receiver became involved. He was determined to settle with Pye Radio and nothing it seems was going to stop him; even the possibility of raising money on the patent.
Mr Ten Eyck her Amercian attorney found a buyer for her patent, a Mr Fisher who had a film company. However, his lawyers were involved with handling matters for Pye Radio abroad and they advised Mr Fisher not to buy the patent and the deal fell through. There were other attempts to sell the patent but these too, when they were disclosed to the Official Receiver, fell through.
In a letter dated 25th July 1960, the Official Receiver in Bankruptcy he writes to Marie:
“At the adjourned meeting of creditors held to-day the creditors present considered an offer made without prejudice by Pye Limited in settlement of the judgement obtained by you.
The Offer provides for the payment of £4,330 to the Official Receiver as trustee of your estate in discharge of all claims which your estate might have against Pye Ltd. This sum of money is sufficient to pay the proper costs, fees, charges and expenses of the bankruptcy, the amount of costs payable to the Law Society under the legal aid certificates granted to you in the action against Pye Limited and a dividend of about 2s.6d. in the £ to all persons whose claims have been notified to the Official Receiver.
The creditors present were unanimously in favour of acceptance of this offer and the Official Receiver was instructed to take the necessary steps to conclude an agreement with Pye Ltd. and I am writing this letter to you as formal notice of the fact.
As mentioned to you at the last interview which we had at this office there is, as I see it, no obstacle to prevent me proceeding as the creditors have instructed, but if you have other views then no doubt you will consider whether you should apply to the Brighton County Court for an Order that I be restrained from dealing with this matter in the manner proposed, or whether you should take such other steps as you may deem necessary or available.
I must add that I am now setting in motion the procedure for acceptance of the offer and that the time available in which you may take any action is very short.
Yours faithfully, T.H.Parker Official Receiver.”
Marie did in fact take action to prevent the Official Receiver from settling with Pye Ltd (see Timeline). Applications were put before the High Court for a Restraining Order to prevent the Official Receiver from settling with Pye Ltd and were resisted by him. It was open warfare between Marie and the Official Receiver. However the Brighton County Court refused to issue a Restraining Order on the Official Receiver and despite her best efforts, and after a three-year legal battle, the settlement went through.
Marie’s health deteriorated with the stress and strain of the long unremitting years of battle. She was homeless when admitted to St Luke’s Hospital in Guildford with cancer of the lungs and spine. Her children, Nigel and Christina, then aged 13 and 10 years, were taken under the wing of Justice Lloyd-Jacob. He became their guardian, undertaking to place them in boarding schools where they could complete their education. I believe he undertook this task feeling that Marie had not received the fruits of the judgement he had awarded her against Pye Radio.
Marie was homeless when she died in St Luke’s Hospital in Guildford, Surrey, on January 20th 1964. She is buried at Eashing Lane Cemetery, Godalming, Surrey. It is 44 years since Marie’s death and time has eroded the lettering on her gravestone but time has not healed the loss of her going or the place in her family’s heart. She will always be, as the inscription says, ‘Remembered with Love and Pride’.
As the inscription says
“Remembered with Love and Pride
our dear Mother
MARIA LOUISE KILLICK
1914 – 1964
In life, in Death
O Lord abide with me”