Saturday, 30 January 2010

University Education: Real World Careers

Are we in danger of believing that everything can be taught in Universities and away from the real world? University courses and formal training are increasingly replacing apprenticeship, articles or what you will as a method of training. Certainly the UK has in the past 30 years developed an IP academia to be proud of. Its birth derives from the contraceptive pill and the philanthropy of its inventor Dr Herchel Smith. Patents made him more money than he could enjoy and it has gone back to Queen Mary University of London and Cambridge to create centres of Intellectual Property learning. UCL aims to compete too. Follow those links for their events pages. The Cambridge one is particularly good.
Continuing Professional Development requirements ensure in-service professionals flock to their doors to attend impressive lecture programmes.
What concerns me is that the feedback loop is not complete. All this education is not working its way through to the client. There is a danger it gets parked in some "academic" part of the brain while the day to day work of the IP professional goes on unaffected.  Many patent agents I have spoken too perceive the collection of CPD as a chore and not something to enhance their client work. Why are they so jaundiced. With such an attitude there is no enthusiasm to listen actively and contribute to the debate. Academia needs to engage with the points collectors and find out what could get them to respond.

Worse still, there are no jobs for the graduate students being trained in IP today. They will move away from the field disillusioned. A fascination with the intricacies of copyright law and policy cannot be monetised into chargeable hours or pay the rent.

Our professional bodies have not paid much attention to the ranks of the unemployed trainees. Do we not owe those who are capable of qualification some support. After all when the grandfathers die business may want some applied IP skills.

Tell me why I am wrong.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Striking out on my own

This blog features surprisingly little human-interest content, in terms of solo IP practitioners describing their own experiences as they leave the safe world of the larger enterprise and set off on their own. Here, in this post, trade mark attorney Aaron Wood, who has worked with a variety of big-name firms, writes of his motivation to exchange a life of comfort and security for the uncertainties of independent practice. Says Aaron:
"The decision to set up on my own was one of the hardest, yet easiest, decisions of my life. There is risk – substantial risk – but the personal rewards outweigh any risk.
I have been blessed in my career to work with a number of wonderful lawyers, wonderful managers and wonderful business people, and on some occasions all these traits have been exhibited in the same person. A few years ago I crossed the path of a wonderful lawyer who has remained a mentor to me through his words and actions. I was struck by his ability to create lasting bonds with clients, to mentor and manage people and to lead by his own convictions. His effect on me was immeasurable.
I realised slowly that I was unwilling to compromise on some convictions, unable to compromise on my plan and increasingly unperturbed by the prospect of running my own firm. I am well aware that a “hump” will come – a time that will test my convictions, my plans and my belief – but the prospect of being able to decide how to deal with this hump reassures me. Starting the firm has also fitted in well with putting the final touches on the my book, and hopefully this will lead to further opportunities.
The obvious risk of starting your own firm is the lack of work and the cash flow issue. I am very pleased to say that so far (touch wood – or should that be touch Wood!) there is work and people are happy to pay for honest work. It is hard work, but surely no harder than many magic circle lawyers work each day. I am also very pleased that I am being instructed by clients who you would not expect to instruct a sole practitioner. Most trade mark, design and copyright work does not require an army of faceless corporate minions, so I am blessed to be in an area of law where small firms can realistically be instructed by big clients.
The hardest part was actually making the leap. How often do we speak in life of how we should like to strike out on our own, only to back down. I decided that the only way to truly make the leap was to scuttle my boats, making it essential to then make things work. It is surprising how many serendipitous events occur when you keep your ears open and need things to work out. It is also amazing how many great business people you meet who regard you with respect rather than the disdain we usually think people have of the legal profession".
Thanks, Aaron. This sets me thinking, people who work in large practices and start talking openly about serendipity start attracting some odd looks from their colleagues.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Too Much Paper - Encourage the UK IPO to stop sending it

The UK IPO is running an informal consultation on its plan to cease sending out copies of patent citations with their search and examination reports. They also plan to follow the EPO and USPTO and stop sending applicants copies of their own publications which are all available on-line on the IPO website .
This seems to be a no-brainer but it would be good if our representative organisations responded.
Not all citations are patent documents and sometimes it can be difficult to find these scientific publications and papers. Google Scholar can be tantalising in pointing you to documents  and abstracts but often the full text is hard to find. I spent part of last week searching for the text of a 1976 document from The US Bureau of Mines. Could I mine it in the UK. No.
 I have also come up against references to data sheets that were on the web when the patent specification was drafted and have since moved or been updated. Both examiner and applicant need to be looking at the same copy.
Accordingly, it seems we need a depository for copies on non-patent pubications that are cited in or cited against patent applications. This could be accessible both by examiners and attorneys to enable documents to be made available to subsequent readers of the patent specification. What do you think? Maybe it could find a place in the Projects of the Five IP Offices

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Around the blogs: two current issues

1. In a post earlier this week ("IP offices, private practitioners and sponsored videos") the IPKat raised a number of issues, subsequently keenly discussed in readers' comments, relating to the availability of European Patent Office staff and resources as means of actually or hypothetically promoting the interests of private practice firms.

This issue is of relevance to sole and small practitioners who, unlike larger firms, may find the cost of EPO examiners' fares and hospitality disproportionately burdensome to bear. A fellow SOLO IP blogger has suggested that the IPKat's raising of this is a little churlish, also citing her own positive experiences of organising events with the participation of two other organisations -- OHIM and the UK's IPO. Do readers of this blog have any further comments?

2. Joff Wild's strongly-pressed thesis that what SMEs in Europe need is more patent attorneys, and more competition between them, appears on the IAM Magazine Blog here. This too is an issue that has obvious repercussions for solo and small practitioners whose practices depend on certain assumptions concerning predicted income and work-flow. Once again, any comments?