Thursday 21 June 2012

Complaints: a matter of give and take

The various branches of the intellectual property professions, at any rate in jurisdictions where legal services are highly regulated and/or highly competitive, on account of there being too many IP professionals in relation to the amount of available work, are very sensitive to their image: are they trusted, are they respected, are they believed by current and prospective clients to be discharging their functions in a satisfactory manner?  The prospect of being reported to one's regulatory body in consequence of having slipped up or -- probably a good more often -- of having been thought to have slipped up, is a miserable one. For small and sole practitioners the discomfort is compounded by the fact that one is exposed and has nowhere to hide.  The small cog in a big wheel can hide behind the image of a large, faceless firm, while the small practitioner may be synonymous with it.

The situation is not much more comfortable when the small or sole practitioner is making a complaint, rather than receiving it.  Compliance with complaints procedures can be tiresomely repetitive, bureaucratic and time-consuming, even if this is for the laudable purposes of ensuring transparency in dealing with it and in seeking to establish whether the complaint is justified.  Where this is the case, and particularly where -- even where the complaint is justified -- no obvious damage can be attributed to the client, it is quite probable that a complaint will simply be left to fester in the mind of its real victim, the frustrated and inconvenienced practitioner.

The European Patent Office is highly conscious of the need to have a quality complaints procedure, and discussion within the profession has led to this week's sidebar poll on the IPKat weblog here.  If you have something to say about the EPO's complaints procedure, you will probably find the poll a little too short and simple -- but its organisers would like to hear from you anyway, whether you feel that the EPO is handling your complaints well or not.  The closing date for responses is this Sunday evening, 24 June, so don't miss the chance!

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