The team won the accolade for its work advising Preventx, an innovative technology company providing vital remote testing services for sexually transmitted infections on behalf of local authorities and NHS Trusts, in relation to its competition law claim against Royal Mail. These services were particularly vital during the lockdown period of the COVID-19 epidemic when 'walk-in' sexual health clinics were closed.
This dispute arose from Royal Mail's requirement for Preventx to migrate from its "Freepost" service to the significantly more expensive "Tracked Returns" service. This requirement threatened to cause irreparable harm to Preventx's business and would have also posed a significant risk to public health, patient anonymity and the work of public health authorities.
Gowling WLG successfully brought Preventx's application before the High Court to restrain Royal Mail's conduct. On an interlocutory injunction, the Court found that Royal Mail's threats to destroy or refusal to process patient samples sent by Freepost as well as its requirement for Preventx to migrate to the Tracked Returns service within a short notice period prima facie amounted to "unfair trading conditions".
The team took a radical approach to competition law disputes in advancing arguments beyond the pure economic considerations of the case. Instead, Gowling WLG focused the case on an alleged exploitative abuse of dominance and on the core issues of unfairness, public interest and patient confidentiality.
The case therefore serves as a key example of the way in which competition law can be used in novel and creative ways to hold larger players to account for imposing unfair trading terms and opens new avenues for competition litigation.
Bernardine Adkins, Head of EU, Trade and Competition at Gowling WLG, led a team advising Preventx, working alongside partner Gordon Harris.
Gowling WLG was also Highly Commended in the TMT Team of the Year category at the 23rd annual awards for the firm's role in advising pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca in its landmark collaboration with the University of Oxford to develop and distribute its COVID-19 vaccine.