Tuesday 31 December 2013

Little jewels from The EPO for 2014

More flexibility in dividing your applications
The EPO has been rather busy with its late 2013 Administrative Decisions .Its probably the case that most patents agents will be looking for a spot of CPD to make sure they understand the implications of the changes promised for 2014. The change in divisional practice in October which arrives on 1 April 2014 was greeted with much delight but the additional decisions all need to be read and digested. The whole package is driven by divisional issues. The changes in practice on searches are long overdue and it seems an age since CIPA was trawling for data on these iniquities. They don't arrive till 1 November 2014 so some applicants may be grateful for those prolonged delays in the arrival of their supplementary European searches, even if the renewal fees during that wait are inexorably rising as can be seen on the decision relating to fees. Cleveland have a helpful exposition of the new regime on unsearched subject matter here.
All this and the confusion over how to amend European patent applications now that our hands are tied and everything must be electronic as debated on the IPkat here means that 2014 is going to be an exciting year for the European Patent Attorney.
It is to be hoped that with all these procedural shenanigans that someone will remember that the role of the EPO is to issue valid patents efficiently (this includes timeliness) in the hope that those innovations will be exploited positively to the benefit of the European economy and not just of patent agents and litigators.

Monday 23 December 2013

Lawyer self-projection: when fluff and puff are not enough

Via Nick Holmes' Legal Web Watch December 2013 (this being an email supplement to Internet Newsletter for Lawyers) comes this wonderful diagram on lawyer profiles by Matt Homann (@matthomann).

It has been favourited and retweeted with some fervour, so I apologise for boring readers by showing them what they already know.

What occurred to me is that the sort of information in the left-hand side of the equation, puffed-up and/or irrelevant as it may seem, is the sort of information that is craved, or at least expected, by large corporate or public-sector clients. There, the source of the lawyer's instruction is likely to have a job, a salary and a considerable degree of peace of mind whether Boastful Bertie returns phone calls, does the job well or at least gives the impression of listening attentively or not.  The sort of client who genuinely cares whether the lawyer returns his calls and can do his job is more likely to an individual or small businessman whose number of dinners in the coming year is likely to depend on the outcome of the instruction.  For him, the immediacy of the sole practitioner may be more comforting, till he addresses issues that aren't on either side of Matt Homann's equation, such as "what happens if/when you go on holiday?" ...

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Partying alone

For many of our readers, this week is the week before Christmas Day and various public holidays, office closures and general lapses into domestic bliss and/or idleness.  Traditionally it's therefore the week for office parties.

Now, it is a fact that is not widely appreciated among the more populous realms of intellectual property law and practice that people who work by themselves, very often in their own homes, in a little room at the top of the house or in what used to be the spare bedroom or boxroom, don't have the same opportunities for pre-Christmas office partying.  Some fortunate solo practitioners will find themselves invited to office parties held by clients or, where they practise in leased premises, they may enjoy a little partying with other souls with whom they have nothing in common other than the fact that they are tenants of the same landlord.  For the rest, the Christmas party is a solitary vice, or virtue if you prefer.

Don't despair.  When all else fails and there's not much fun to be had, when you've blown up and then burst your party balloon and sprained a wrist pulling that Christmas cracker against yourself, when you've counted the bubbles in your glass of bubbly -- why not take up writing for SOLO IP? We'd love to hear from you about your travails and triumphs in IP practice, your dreams, your aspirations, your neat tricks for handling those awkward clients and small office management issues.  Remember, we're never more than a blogpost away!

How to have a party by yourself on WikiHow, here
Nothing wrong with being your own party, here

Tuesday 17 December 2013

CPD: something to muse on

CPD: can be a heavy burden but it always
relevant to practitioners' needs?
Earlier today, when casting around for interesting subjects that never get written about in IP journals, I found myself musing about the requirements imposed on IP practitioners in some jurisdictions with regard to continuing professional development -- the magical letters "CPD".  What I found myself wondering was whether the regime for CPD was in need of a substantial degree of rationalisation.  In the UK, which is itself divided as between England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, four species of practitioners ply their expertise: solicitors, barristers, patent attorneys and trade mark attorneys.  Each profession has its own criteria, its own rules, its own notions as to what counts as training at all.  And the professions in the UK are in competition with those elsewhere in Europe, many of which -- this blogger suspects -- have rudimentary CPD rules or none at all.

Beyond that, there are questions of convenience.  Large firms generally self-certify their staff's CPD points, which means that they can gain the requisite number of hours with the inconvenience of leaving their place of work or the risk of meeting interesting people who work for other firms.

Then there is the question of relevance of the continued professional development.  This blogger well recalls attending a one-day conference on IP and Sport some years ago, at which one of the registrants was an in-house solicitor with a public utility.  No, he said, this event had nothing to do with any work he had ever done or was likely to do, but he needed those CPD hours. How far should actual and expected work be allowed to dictate CPD requirements, if at all?

All of this leads this blogger to wonder: do the inconsistencies in CPD requirements as between jurisdictions and as between the IP professions impose greater burdens on the sole/small practitioner than on large firms and those who work for them, and do they have an undesirable effect on competition both within the professions and between them.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Pipe Down

I was speaking to a trainee patent agent and asked what he thought of the new IPREG examination proposals that we have mentioned here and here. He gave me the view of his principal. This shows commendable loyalty and what might reasonably expected of a devoted apprentice who lives in the blissful hope that all wisdom resides in his master.

However it has to be acknowledged that while his master is probably a master of claim drafting and patent prosecution, he may be a mere amateur when it comes to examination and qualification procedures that provide an adequate safeguard for the public. It is true that the students are also amateurs in this eclectic sphere, but if left unpressurised they can provide IPREG with insight into the practical issues they expect may be imposed on them by the new rules.

Regrettably the fact that students are taking the QMW course without training contracts in hope is offering encouragement to  IPREG in their plans. That does of course mean that the profession is restricted to an input filtered by an academic institution or the larger firms capable of sponsoring students.

Is there any evidence of the skills and aptitudes that are needed by business in their patent providers?

Monday 9 December 2013

Alternative Business Structures -- as if we don't have them already

The Legal Services Board -- a strange sort of entity that seems to be there to regulate the regulators, has won the sudden and passionate admiration of the patent and trade mark attorney professions in the United Kingdom, it seems.  The following media release has just reached this blogger:
Legal Services Board announces recommendation that IP Regulator is to be licensed to authorise and regulate Alternative Business Structures

The Legal Services Board (LSB -- nothing to do with the closely similar LSD, much favoured in various Alternative Structures of the 1960s, or the studiously academic environment of the LSE where, well, never mind ...) has announced its decision to make a recommendation to the Lord Chancellor to designate the Intellectual Property Regulation Board, IPReg, as a licensing authority for Alternative Business Structures. This recommendation, if it is accepted, will enable firms of patent and trade mark attorneys to operate under Alternative Business Structures, under IPReg regulation.

“This makes a lot of sense,” said Roger Burt, President of the Chartered institute of Patent Attorneys. “Having IPReg as the licensing authority for Alternative Business Structures will benefit consumers as well as the legal profession. It should remove a potential obstacle to firms of patent attorneys merging with other providers of legal or professional services. This could widen consumer choice and enhance the service provided to business.”

Catherine Wolfe, President of the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys, congratulated IPReg’s CEO Ann Wright on her efforts which have enabled this important milestone to be reached: “It’s taken the IPReg team many months of hard and good work to get this far,” she said. “It has been a complicated and demanding process and we are delighted to hear that the Legal Services Board is making this recommendation.”
You can read more about the LSB's decision here.

This recommendation says nothing about Alternative Business Structures that combine the practice of an IP professional with those of the diplomat, debt-collector, accountant, social worker, psychotherapist and a few other things besides -- most if not all of which are found in any typical solo practitioner.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Salary survey: stand up and be accounted

Recruitment and management consultancy practice Fellows and Associates has just launched its Annual Salary Survey 2014, sponsored this year by The Patent Lawyer magazine. The questions this year have been modified in order to better gather the most important data. In particular, the survey analysis is said to be made simpler to understand, with a separate section specific to the UK market. According to Fellows:
"The survey will take an average of 5 minutes but should take no more than 8 minutes to complete. As a thank you for your time we will enter you into a draw to win a £100 Amazon Gift Card (or equivalent value in alternative currency) when you provide your name and email address at the end".
You can seize this golden opportunity to depress the survey's findings by telling them how much you earn win £100 in value for no more than eight minutes toil by clicking here. There again, £100 for eight minutes works out at only £750 an hour, far less than we would normally expect to charge ...