Spotlight on… Steven Murray

15th April 2024

image of steven murray holding a chain of office

This month, we shine the spotlight on Steve Murray. He tells us about his numerous roles inside and outside of work – from Partner and Head of IP and Tech Disputes to President of the Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce. Steve also gives us his top tips for clients and shares his most memorable outcome for a client with us.

1. How long have you been a lawyer?

In my head, since I was 10, but I officially qualified in 2004. I’ve been at HCR for 17 years, having moved to Cheltenham from the Wirral in March 2007 to become an Intellectual Property (IP) and Commercial Disputes Solicitor. Since university I have been passionate about IP, and self-funded a diploma in IP Law & Practice in 2006, before the move to HCR.

2. What’s your career progression at HCR been like?

I joined HCR as a three year post-qualified experienced Solicitor, but as my previous experience was in personal injury litigation acting mostly for insurers in defended cases, I started the commercial and IP litigation role here, effectively from scratch. Whilst familiar with the court process, at the time, this area of law wasn’t something I’d frequently practised in. I progressed relatively quickly and achieved my personal goal of making Partner before I turned 40 in 2018.

I’ve led the contentious IP work the firm does in Cheltenham for the last decade and I’m now Head of IP and Tech Disputes across the entire firm. I also recently became Deputy Head of the Technology Sector.

3. What first attracted you to a career in IP law? Where did that passion spark from?

When I was ten, I watched the ITV series LA Law and it convinced me life as a lawyer would be awesome. Bar the odd day and some awkward opponents, the reality isn’t far from what I imagined. The desire to become a lawyer informed my choices for A-Levels and I found a university course that combined law with management studies; as I knew to properly advise businesses it was necessary to understand business.

My passion for IP law developed at university as a result of Dr David Bainbridge – he literally wrote the book on IP law and I had the fortune to be taught by him. I’m a bit of a geek and love gadgets; anything that’s got cool functionality to it. So being able to apply my legal brain to an area of law that protects the new and innovative was, in my mind, a perfect storm, and it defined my career thereafter. However, I would not have achieved what I have in my career without the support of my wife Laura and my daughter Isla, for which I am enormously and eternally grateful.

4. What type of legal advice do you provide and to what type of clients?

My advice is focused on what achieves the best commercial outcome in a given dispute. That might involve determining if a trade mark has been infringed, if the copyright in a software program was reproduced without licence, or if a patent was undermined by prior art. Then seeing if there is a way for the parties to mutually benefit from a new commercial arrangement or seeking an injunction to stop damage caused by the infringement increasing.

My clients range from individual entrepreneurs who have found their ideas stolen, to established national and international businesses that face challenges to their IP.

My caseload has recently also included the recovery of crypto assets for individuals who’ve sadly been defrauded and had their cryptocurrency stolen. It is a new and rapidly developing area of the law, being re-written each time one of the cases gets to court.

5. What’s your most memorable outcome for a client and why?

In 2022, I recovered all of a client’s stolen Bitcoin.

Gary came to us, explaining how he’d invested £450,000 in cryptocurrency, which at that time equated to 89 Bitcoin. It was a very sophisticated scam and he was shown the returns he was making on a fake website, all the while his actual Bitcoin had been syphoned off. It was only when he needed to withdraw his investment did the fraudsters conveniently disappear.

With the assistance of a blockchain tracing expert and barristers willing to push the envelope, we took the case successfully to a summary judgement hearing in September 2022. In addition to using that court order to require the crypto exchange to return all 89 stolen Bitcoin, we created new precedent for recovering further Bitcoin out of the digital wallet storing the ill-gotten gains of the fraudster to pay Gary’s costs as well. The case was ground-breaking as it was the first in the world to use an NFT (non-fungible token) to serve a summary judgment by dropping a digital link to the judgment into the wallet the stolen coin was found to be in.

I have since taken two further cases successfully to the same conclusion and have clients, both local and international, seeking a similar outcome. All require an innovative, untested approach that will hopefully result in more precedents being set.

6. What is your number one top tip for clients? Do you have a top tip for IP and a top tip for crypto clients?

My overall top tip is: get it in writing. I’ve had so many cases where absence of something in writing puts what was said into doubt and that leads to higher risks over what the terms of a given agreement were.

From an IP perspective, if it’s worth copying, it’s worth protecting. Make sure your product is protected through registration – trade mark, design right or patents – before someone else does.

Companies who hope to grow their business and attract investment or sell, will add value to their company with more IP, especially if it is registered. It provides something tangible to the intangible benefit IP is and it shows to potential investors you are taking yourself seriously. Also, by having your IP registered, it makes suing for IP infringement easier, if needed.

From a cryptocurrency perspective, don’t invest. Cryptocurrency is becoming a fact of life. It will, at some stage, possibly in our lifetime, replace FIAT currency. Hardly anybody uses cash these days and ultimately when you tap your card on a machine, you’re transferring a digital amount from one ledger to another. The blockchain is not really that different, but unfortunately it is unregulated, a fact that is being abused by fraudsters to con people into parting with their live savings. So, if you are enticed into an investment via advert on social media, ignore it. Don’t touch it. If you want to invest, do so safely and make sure you do your research thoroughly before you put any money anywhere.

7. When you’re not working with clients, what else are you working on?

Around 2010, I was invited by a colleague here to join a meeting of the Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce and soon after became their Honorary Solicitor providing ad hoc pro-bono advice to the Chamber and its members. In recognition of this service, I was recently elected as President of the Chamber.

I am really honoured to have been given the opportunity to take the position, which I started in April 2024. However, I’ve got big shoes to fill. Sarah Cook has done an amazing job regenerating the Chamber and its activities over the last 12 months. I hope to be able to carry that momentum forward, supporting the local businesses, and ensuring they get fair treatment and maximise the opportunities this town and county have to offer.

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