Thursday, 27 November 2008

Rethinking insurance

I am pleased to hear that the Law Society is considering staggering the renewal dates for Professional Indemnity insurance and a return to the Solicitors Indeminty Fund (SIF) (although whether the latter is the best option is not something on which I am qualified to comment).

Clearly something drastic was needed following the insurance fiasco firms faced this summer. This resulted in a six fold rise in the number of firms that went into the Assigned Risks Pool – a place normally reserved for firms with poor claims records, or some other serious problem. As the insurers were taking their time in issuing quotes it was scary. Many of us were left imagining how awful it would be to end up in the ARP on the one hand, and then thinking surely that's impossible given that I have a completely unblemished claim free record. What I hated the most about the experience was that one was completely powerless to do anything about it. Only 3 insurers would look at IP work, so this so called competitive market place where one could shop around was simply non existent. What made matters worse was that some brokers were implying that IP was a No Go area - far too risky to entertain.

Interestingly, some of us had a meeting with Redvers Cunningham of the Bar Mutual Insurance Fund Ltd. He is also a director of PAMIA. Amazingly he told us that IP is in fact one of the lowest risk areas of work – particularly where that work is done by practitioners who specialise in the area. So, I hope the Law Society’s PII group will speak to knowledgeable individuals like Redvers when reviewing PII.

VAT Change for SOLOs

I've been struggling with the VAT change. I've dredged up from my memory the horrors of bills with two VAT rates so I was pleased to find this paragraph in the detailed VAT guide rather than the confusing summary that arrived in the post.

If you are making a single supply of a service which is nevertheless carried out over a period of time which spans the change in rate (e.g. the service provided by a solicitor in preparing a will) the whole supply can be charged at the new 15% rate. Any VAT already accounted for at 17.5% (e.g. on payments on account made before 1 December 2008) may be adjusted using the special change of rate rules described in paragraph 3.1.

I think my IP jobs are analogous to preparing a will so I have stopped fretting as to whether I need to bill all my work in progress before the end of the week. Anyone have thoughts ? The idea of being asked to sub up the 2.5% to the VAT man because I have made a mistake and charged the lower rate when I should have charged the higher one.

So its back to the credit control , oh joy

Saturday, 22 November 2008

After-the-event Insurance, and possible Christmas drinks

I have been sitting for the past couple of weeks on a proposal concerning free drinks for members of the group, for which an apology is clearly in order.  In fact, the drinks are not entirely free: the proposal comes from a friend in the ATE insurance business, who would very much like an hour of your time in return for which he will sponsor a SoloIP Christmas drinks event somewhere in London, probably around the Temple (subject to finding a room).

In addition to the drink(s), you get an hour CPD.  And some invaluable knowledge about ATE insurance, which I for one consider extremely important when dealing with impecunious clients who need to sue infringers ...  and I doubt I am the only one with such clients.

Please could I have an indication of interest in this, so I know whether we are going to be able to do something?  Either before Christmas (best) or if necessary in the New Year.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

The Solo Practice university

Here is a link to a podcast that is likely to be of interest to SoloIP practitioners: Charon QC (alias - well, taht would be telling) has an interview with Susan Cartier Liebel, author of the Build a Solo Practice LLC blog in the States, and founder of the Solo Practice University - which Charon descrives as "a very innovative concept for US lawyers to continue their training under the guidance of experts where their law school left off."

His description of the podcast goes on:

"Susan covers the idea behind Solo Practice University, the mission, the faculty, the response so far and the likely opening date. It is a fascinating concept and Susan’s enthusiasm is very clear. The interview was recorded over a telephone and sound is not as good as I would have liked."

No warranties, as I haven't listened to it, but I bet it's fun and interesting going by earlier ones in the series. (I do not include my contributions in that assessment.)

Monday, 17 November 2008

Subscription pricing, solo practitioners and the current crisis

Following on from the theme of the previous post, I was undecided as to whether to be surprised by the magnitude of Westlaw's 36.66% subscription price-hike for the SOLO IP group or to say that I'd been expecting it all along, on the basis that the original deal for solo practitioners was a honey trap.

Left: the small subscriber in the credit crunch -- not waving, but drowning ...

However, whether Westlaw is prudently seeking to maximise the value of its vast and vital database or whether it is cynically exploiting the segment of the IP community that is least able to defend itself, one thing is probable: Westlaw's pricing policy is not made on the spur of the moment and is the result of a lengthy process that involves a complex interplay of factors that do not concern members of the SOLO fraternity, such as overheads, marketing strategy and sales bonuses, as well as the one thing that obviously concerns us all -- how much the service costs.

My guess is that the process leading to the 36.66% price hike therefore commenced a long time before the current economic crisis and therefore has not taken it into account. If this is right, Westlaw -- and organisation not famed for its spontaneity of decision-making -- should be urged to think again before it asks what might become of small practitioners as a whole during the coming year, including not just the SOLO IP group but sole and small practitioners throughout the legal professions. With smaller client bases, many sole practitioners are extremely dependent on just one or two larger clients and, if these go to the wall, the practitioner may go under too. Sole practitioners are already faced with soaring insurance premiums and an inconveniently invasive regulatory regime; for many there is no cost-saving option in reducing staff levels since there is no-one to lay off. Westlaw and its competitors should think twice before raising subscription levels so sharply, or they may be snuffing out the precious seeds of profitable subscriptions in the future.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Westlaw Inflation

The elite group of seventeen SOLO Westlaw IP subscribers have been receiving invitations to renew their subscriptions commenced last year. Now the Westlaw model is that they add new material to their databases each year so in principle the product becomes more valuable. There is also the question of entry level discounts so that a certain upward spiral is to be expected.
At 36.66% I fear some of you may be contemplating not renewing, which allows them to say that the reduced numbers justify the decision to increase the rate for the remainder. The drop out rate for law firm subscribers who have bought 17 seats is probably quite low so we are a special case.

What are we getting with Westlaw IP - access to some of the best IP books on the shelf - The CIPA black book, Kerly on Trademarks and Copinger are the ones I use most in my practice. We also get case law, which is up to date and includes EPO case law but not general English law which can be frustrating when dealing with a contract points, IP statutes including European material in updated form and a selection of journals including EIPR as well as Current Awareness. It is a very valuable library but even so when you are a SOLO practitioner the occassions for use mean the books stay on the shelve from time to time.

For those of you who weren't in on the recruitment campaign last year and are interested in subscribing at a decent rate even after inflation do get in touch. Sorry if you are a barrister or in a larger law firm or based overseas. If we increase the group size then we have greater negotiating power to flatten the spiral.

Because the absolute level of the subscription is confidential please restrict comments to the percentage increase you would bear to renew. Personally I will renew but I think if the group stays the same size we should be allowed to renew at a 20% increase instead of this rate. What do you think?

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Easy way to grab 3 CPD points

If you're looking for CPD points, there are 3 up for grabs at the Class 46 Rapid Response Seminar on trade mark dilution in the light of Intel v CPM on Tuesday 2 December 2008. It's an 11am-3pm seminar, organised by Hardwicke Building together with the Class 46 European trade mark blog team. The registration fee is just £50, inclusive of VAT. Full details are available here.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Three Judges Chatting

Last night's excellent seminar hosted by Sir Hugh Laddie of UCL gave a platform for three judges from three jurisdictions to address their concerns about the patent system. The audience was drawn from all sections of the profession, patent attorneys, barristers and solicitors with a good sprinkling of SOLO members amongst the generally swanky city suits. It was a complacent audience and you sensed that it did not care too much when David Kitchin expressed his concerns that the Patents Courts lists were full but only with cases of those spending millions on settling their disputes.
Judge Rader gave us a masterclass in the double-edged compliment but, to be fair, the insulting flattery game had been started by Sir Hugh Laddie. Apparently the one thing the global IP judges have in common is a school boy camaraderie of cheek. Randy's substantive address was about the US approach to the grant of injunctions, which he attributes to English principles of equity. No doubt it is expedient to prevent abuse of the patent system by those with patents that relate to a relatively unimportant contribution. The US has a problem with trolls, but no compulsory licence provisions so the judiciary has had to invent them. There was a certain amount of discussion of trollism but there were many who benefit from the University IP market so there was little agreement on how to define them. The ownership of trivial patents that are infringed in big established and financially successful products or services like EBay or mobile phones seems to be a key feature.
There was some publicity for the Burdon plan to reduce litigation costs and several times it was stated that the Patents County Court had failed. Costs caused everyone lots of problems much to the amusement of Randy. Our (former) European judge, Jan Brinkhof smiled inscrutably knowing that mega-costs are not such a problem in mainland Europe.
The EPO came in for some criticism with one member of the audience complaining that the EPO opposition and appeal procedures were so cheap and accessible that his rich clients did not enjoy the exclusive use of resources as they did in the English Patents Court. David Kitchin did have some sympathy about the slowness of the EPO and said it was less likley today for UK cases to be stayed pending resolution by the EPO
Sadly we got a good understanding of the problem, but no solutions to the accessibility to patent resolutions for players with fewer resources than Nokia and Merck.
We look forward to more provocative seminars from IBIL. Thank you.