Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The Life of a Regulator

It's all about organisation
The morning's email brought a copy of the recently published Annual Report 2010 from IPReg - the regulator of most patent and trademark attorneys. It is one of the smaller regulators that come under the aegis of the Legal Services Board. 
These smaller professions have proudly boasted that they hardly ever have any complaints and could self regulate very well before this new regime came into force. Therefore it comes as something of a surprise that the report indicates that there have been far more requests for guidance on conduct by attorneys in relation to the activities of others attorneys than from the public. They say:
"We are concerned that we should not to be used as leverage in what may be, essentially, a commercial dispute e.g. over “ownership” of client following.
Whatever the source of the complaint, however, we are obliged to follow the same processes and this is a cost to the profession as a whole."

In short, if you want to keep the fees down, don't come to IPReg to resolve your restrictive covenant problems. Frankly, it is unprofessional for a partnership not to be able to manage its business discreetly when it is necessary for staff and partners to be reduced. Yes the recession is really hitting the IT profession now as decisions to put off maintaining intellectual property can no longer be delayed by our clients. As the EPO office actions become more contentious and the Appeal Board decisions later or arbitrary, it's harder to justify the investment.  Its better for the country if our clients stay in business even if we don't.

Alternative Business Structures (ABS)

The Report also indicates that one of the issues facing IPReg this year is whether it should be an ABS regulator. Personally, I was surprised that the Law Society and the Solicitors Regulation Authority had so much difficulty in deciding that they would regulate ABS. Neil Rose covers the decision very well in his Guardian article. Surely it is now increasingly clear that lawyers are good at practising law but bad at running businesses and that the law like every other business should be professionally managed. In short, it seems to me an ABS is the only legal business a consumer or a business should want to enter into a relationship with. Of course, dealing with a SOLO practitioner or a barrister is the exception because you are buying a personal service. Personally, I hope that IPReg will take the plunge and become an ABS regulator. Otherwise I foresee Patent and Trademark attorneys once more joining the great unregulated and the British Standard won't really help.


  1. I think I am right in saying that an agency which is one of the most prolific filers of UK trade mark applications is totally unregulated by anybody?

    Philip Cooper

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  3. Yes indeed, a review of any UK trademark Journal would likely show that registered trademark attorneys are now in the minority of representatives. Anyone want to volunteer to do the research and then we can have real evidence

  4. Firms of solicitors are much more prolific filers of trade mark applications in the UK than they used to be but they are of course regulated.

    The agency I am talking of is the only one I am aware of that is totally unregulated I believe.

    If they can do it and attract a large following, what is to stop anybody?

  5. Firstly, there was only one complaint filed that fell under the remit of IPREG, demonstrating that IPREG is an expensive waste of everyone's money. The comment about complaints from within the profession are a red herring as such complaints can be dismissed without consideration. IPREG are also increasing their budget and staff to cope with their increased workload! Are they expecting 2 complaints next year? What with a doubling of workload and other increased demands on their resources they should be able to bring down the country's unemployment figures with their recruitment plan.

    I'm afraid I don't get the comments about ABS regulation and the difference with solo practitioners. Promoting one's own practices as more righteous than others is never objective justification for anything.