Monday 17 May 2010

Foreign Relations for Trademark Attorneys

Thanks to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for permission to use this picture of William Hague, the UK's New Foreign Secretary with US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton in Washington. Mr Hague's travel arrangements to the US appear to have been trouble free, the 450 UK trademark attorneys heading for the INTA Annual Meeting in Boston. may not be so lucky between ash clouds and the BA strikes.

Why are we off to this meeting - what is the point? For myself  I hope to meet and greet clients and associates with whom I work. This is an opportunity when so many congregate in one place -  too many perhaps as there are over 8000 registered already. Finding a random person without a prior arrangement is going to be hard.

This year I am hoping to attend the sessions and catch up on the chasms that divide US and European practice. Co- blogger Jeremy Phillips is chairing CW03 – Regional Update – Africa on Wednesday Morning at 10:15 if the fast and furious classic annual review of US Federal Case Law and TTAB practice is not for you.

The Exhibition hall has some interesting prospects and this year guests are allowed in. They will be easy to spot as their badges are blue.  Here I shall find the OHIM stand and learn some more about the reasons behind the idiosyncrasies of their IT system and the ongoing delays in the Opposition Division

I may chat with one or two attorneys who are representing other sides in oppositions. I suspect it may not be a good year for that as I detect a hardening of hearts.

As to the party circuit, it seems that this year the guest lists for receptions and parties are being curtailed so maybe I will get more rest than in former years. Alternatively it may mean less manic circulation and more quality time at the parties I do attend. Of course Meet the Bloggers on  May 24 at 8pm at Lucky's Lounge, Boston is likely to be a very high quality event. See you there.

Friday 7 May 2010

Barristers Terms of Engagement - sharing or bearing the Risk

I have to thank barrister, Jane Lambert of NIPC for drawing my attention to The Bar Council Consultation on their terms of engagement.

The paper is worth a read just for the explanation of the delights of the "cab rank rule" and the fact that there is no obligation to pay barristers. What gentlemen to have practised so long on such unsound terms. I have every sympathy with the need for reform.

The downside of making the solicitor (or presumably other regulated lawyer such as a a patent or trade  mark agent since CIPA, ITMA and IPReg are listed amongst the consultees) responsible for payment under the New Contractual Terms  is that the solicitor then bears all the risk of the non-paying client and today that is SO LARGE we will always needs barristers fees as a retainer in advance of giving instructions.

The Terms also allow for open hourly rate contracts. 

It seems to me that the Bar Council is asking for a lot in exchange for the cab rank rule. In Intellectual Property Matters that does not really hold up. Clients have to instruct Council they can afford and who are available. For many IP matters it makes a lot more sense for the barrister and solicitor to work in partnership sharing and managing the risk. Gone are the days when a barrister did not contaminate his hands with issues of money.

The risks are greater if the solicitor is not a large organisation and I believe solo solicitors are just as worthy of protection as younger and more vulnerable barristers.

What to do - make your opinions known to your representative body and ensure they respond to the Consultation, comment on this blog. If there is enough support and consensus we can submit a SOLO response.

This has not got a lot to do with apples but its a nice one and somehow it ought to be shared and not poisoned.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

What can we learn from the politicians?

Our colleague Aaron Wood (Wood) has been inspired by the UK General Election to offer some thoughts on what the politicians can teach the solo IP practitioner. He writes:
"Those in the UK know that this week is a momentous week in politics – it is election week, when the general public gets to decide on the future of their country for the next five years. I have had the special pleasure of standing as a candidate for local government, something which I am doing to help improve the area where I live. For a number of months I have been talking to the public on their doorstep, writing local literature in support of my campaign and garnering support from the local community.
Like most of the British public, I have also watched the debates with interest. Interest in the policies, but also interest in the words that they used and the way they presented themselves. I came to wonder, can solo IP practitioners learn from the world of politics? Here are some of my thoughts on the lessons that they show us:
Personal presentation: Each of the main party leaders has presented himself in a way which was congruent with his message. For David Cameron, this was that he is the Prime-Minister-in-waiting, an individual ready to take the reins and lead the country; for Gordon Brown, the look was more of a busy man, a person who has worked hard for the country and wants to continue doing so; for Nick Clegg, a middle ground with colours and presentation slightly discordant with the other two – reflecting his position of being a “different” politician.
Body language and verbal style: The body language of the leaders has been interesting, and there was a view that Clegg was the better person at controlling his body language in the first debate. Clegg’s natural use of the names of questioners and his way of addressing the camera were in contrast with the less natural efforts of the other two leaders. This reflected well with the overall story that Clegg gave of being the leader who understands the public best.
Negative vs. positive policies : The Conservatives have been largely positive in their campaigning, leading to many taking the view that they have not been aggressive enough. Other polls suggest that negative campaigning is a turn-off. Clegg (in the first and third debates) and Brown (in the second debate) jumped upon conflict between the leaders as indicating weakness and as people being like children. Labour and the Liberal Democrats have adopted a more aggressive approach which may or may not be successful across the electorate – an approach which perhaps was needed to try to puncture the perception that the Conservative party was bound to win.
The use of humour: Humour is a wonderful addition – if you are funny. When you build it up and it doesn’t work, it is awful. Each of the leaders has made at least one clunking attempt at humour. According to some of the world’s best humourists, the key is to draw out the humour in the situation, not try to add it in or create it.
What does this all mean for the SOLO IP practitioner? Should we be presidential or approachable (can we be both)? If we’re pitching for work should we always be positive, or is there room for a little bit of negative? Is there room for humour? The answer I think is this – people pick politicians on character. The same is true of advisors – there is an element of professional trust, and an element of relationship.
Clients assume the knowledge and dedication of the advisor and that the administration of the account will be smooth – that is the entry fee to the party. Once that is fulfilled, it’s all open. The growth of the internet, of freer access to legal information has been a game-changer. The large firm has little to add over a niche firm in many IP matters – leaving aside huge patent infringement cases when the ability to call upon a team of corporate associates is seen as a benefit. Most clients want a strong relationship with a small team who will ensure it goes well.
When we hear objections about politicians, we hear that they do not listen to the electorate’s issues – listening and responding to clients is the key. Active listening requires us to watch for reactions – unintentional signs that what we say resonates or grates. By listening and watching, we can be more successful and perhaps we can also break the long monopoly that some clients feel that there are only a few choices".
As ever, readers' comments are welcome. My feeling is that solo and small practitioners have more to learn from dentists than from politicians: know your drill, be painless, focus only on the work that needs to be done -- and make sure your client comes back to you for a check-up before anything urgently needs to be done.

Saturday 1 May 2010

A Vote for Entrepreneurship

In the UK we are in the midst of an election. On Thursday each of us may choose to vote. There are always a multitude of factors that go into that decision. Due to the prominence of the TV Leaders debates and the national coverage many may choose to vote for a party. However others may focus on the choice in their constituency. Much has been left unsaid in this campaign about how the new government will govern and create an environment in which business can flourish or not.

For my clients who are running businesses or thinking of starting one, my fervent hope is a tax and regulatory system that is simple and clear. Tax tends to get more complex and elaborate as politicians tinker with it. Tax Lawyers are much too blame too for creating devious schemes. One of the advantages of not being in big law is that I can say that without fear of retribution from partners who do just that.

The Liberal Democrat policy looked quite neat £10k clear of tax and then everything at income tax rates. Sadly it seems that they believe the gain you make on selling your business - taxed under Capital Gains Tax (CGT) will also be at these rates and the allowance may be within that £10k. Its a sensitive matter and it does not win votes to clarify it now. However beware that this could be a problem for you. Now 'tis true that private equity barons did get into a bit of hot water by having all their income taxed as CGT. The Labour Government increased the rate from 10 to 18% but also introduced an Entrepreneurs relief which in the March 2010 budget rose to £2million. This would indeed radically re balance the tax system. Unfortunately in a direction that is rather depressing to business owners and some of those are going to be growing the economy, which is essential.

Its by no means clear what the Conservatives will do. No promises in their Contract with us. They are likely to look at CGT as a source of income generation. They have no commitment to Entrepreneurs relief and one suspects that rise to £2million was made to be slashed by an incoming opposition and provide a Labour opposition with some nice points at Question Time.

My plaintive tweeting  over the last few weeks has gone largely unnoticed but I have seem that the Business Leaders Network has seen the issue here. OK these big investors may stand to lose a lot. Sadly so do more modest businessmen.

After the Election there will be little inclination for the government funded schemes that deliver few results and this is probably right. We will all have to contribute to reducing the deficit. High earners will be paying more tax but if you cannot save to enjoy retirement then the NHS had better be good as we and our clients will need to work till we die and England is not as warm a place as Greece in which to do that.

The photograph was taken by me in Athens Greece. You can copy it if you like.