Monday 30 January 2017

Patent prospects in an uncertain world

From our individual silos, it is often difficult to ascertain whether a downturn in patent  instructions is just affecting us or part of a larger decline affecting everybody. Clearly the source of your patent work will determine which factors are most influential on your practice.

There is only one firm of patent agents which is listed on the stock exchange and which therefore has an obligation to publicise its results and provide guidance on its profit expectations. This is Murgitroyd Group PLC, a business based in Scotland but with a substantial European and worldwide footprint. I have a small investment in this business. Today (30th  January 2017) they published their interim results. Last Tuesday, 24th January 2017, they issued a trading statement. As a result, their share price which had a 52 week high of 570p has suffered a rather substantial decline. At the time of writing I could buy a share at 382p. Given that their board still expects "to announce a modest increase in dividend at the interim stage" 5p on 23 March if you are on the register by 10 February, it's quite an impressive return at least for the moment.

So what do we learn from them about the reasons for the admitted dip in profits. They say that revenue has increased (benefiting from the sustained depreciation in the value of sterling -  otherwise it would have been broadly flat) but there is lower than anticipated revenue growth -that would be none then. This follows an acquisition and organic expansion so it does suggest that the attorneys are not working as hard as they did in the previous year or that they are charging less for their services.

Obviously they blame uncertainty, but is there evidence of the reasons for the underlying fall in demand? Murgitroyd can and does invest in business development and is probably better placed than most of us solo practitioners to try and grab a bigger share of the market. The chairman's statement says that they are taking measures to address the level of administrative expenses including the scale of investment in business development activities. Some of those business development activities will be denominated in dollar or euros so it's going to be a hard act to keep them down.

The chairman's statement doesn't make much of their unique position to retain EUIPO business. He does mention the Unified Patent Court, but purely in a factual way. We do not know whether he sees it as an opportunity or a threat. He is not prepared to big it up, so let's call it a threat shall we. All we get is that "the UPC will bring with it new challenges and opportunities" but the question is to whom.

Murgitroyd generate substantial revenue from North America (49%) so may be more vulnerable than you are to the tightening of the budgets of US mega filers.

Murgitroyd divide their revenues between their administrative work (34% of total revenue) and the attorney practice group.  They mention their November 2016 introduction of a new online annuities platform. This is for clients and there isn't much price comparison information to indicate whether this service is competitive with some of the horrendously profitable other commercial offerings.

These statements are made to investors most of whom are not patent attorneys and have little understanding of the patent business because they only have an opportunity to invest in one of them. Nevertheless, do read between the lines.

All comments are greatly appreciated and of course this is not investment advice.

Tuesday 24 January 2017

Finding a Trade Mark (or even a Patent) Adviser

IPO IP Events
The UK IPO does an excellent job in promoting the benefits of intellectual rights to business. Its programme of events offers workshops round the country and also promotes some third party events for business, but professionals should keep an eye on it too. The consequence is that an increasing number of trade mark applicants are unrepresented. Some of these applicants are developing portfolios of significant size.

These go it alone business men sometimes save themselves some money on external advice but on other occasions, the exercise incurs expensive fees, takes up valuable management time that could be better spent and delivers inadequate protection. Recently I spotted a series of three separate trademark applications filed by a new business based in Bath. The first was plainly a pure description and has been withdrawn. The second, a simple logo, also withdrawn. The third an elaborate logo, now published. All marks included the geographical name so its clearly intended for a local business so a national monopoly might not be that helpful.  The other time a lack of representation may be a handicap is when an opposition comes in. The natural response of an unrepresented applicant can be to waste a lot of energy producing irrelevant evidence. A short session with an adviser is worthwhile when you need to assess an opposition threat.

How would this applicant have found a cost effective adviser? The first instinct would be to search the web and we know there are good trademark advisers in Bath and nearby Bristol as well as excellent solo members. Google delivers a reasonable result but does not distinguish between the unqualified advertisers and the regulated adviser.

Our business owner could have gone to the IPREG Find An Attorney site and found a very reliable result. He would not have discovered that opportunity in his Google results, but it is by far the best way to look for a local adviser.

You might expect the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Agents to help you find a member. Not all registered trademark agents from the IPREG site are Chartered but all of those on the IPREG site are qualified and regulated.  There is a nice orange button marked Find an Expert on the site and that will lead you to a public search tool that delivers very unhelpful results on a map, so if that's what you get go search on IPREG.

Maybe its time CITMA went on a membership drive in order to help the unrepresented find helpful advice.

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Say a good Farewell to EU IPO practice

There will be no gold clocks for retirees from EUIPO practice
All the UK practitioners (including myself) that cannot claim an Irish passport or buy a Cypriot or Maltese one, will shortly find their careers as EUIPO representatives ended as a result of Brexit. I undertstand that some continue to hope that our businesses will be saved but while that would be welcome, it isnt to be expected within the complexities of the negotiation that must deliver a departure to which we are unlikely to be able to attach conditions. Concessions may come later as they did for Swiss Norwegian and Icelandic representatives.

Nevertheless, there are a few years of dealing with the office to go and we should use them to show that a UK lawyer is always worth having on side especially a chartered trademark agent.

The EUIPO runs a system that is constantly evolving and evolved in quite a significant way in March 2016 with the introduction of the revised Regulation and Implementing regulation 2868/95

Just in case you had had not noticed European Union trade marks expire 10 years after the date of filing and must now be renewed prior to the expiry of the registration. (Article 47 (3)). You used to have until the end of the month. Not any more  and a day late means a 50% surcharge ouch.  I expect you knew that but I just thought I'd remind you.

Another little improvement I noticed is in Article 50 which came into effect on 23 March 2016. This provides that the validity of a surrender made after an application for revocation (non-use or genericide - see article 51 for the grounds of revocation)  is now conditional upon the final rejection or withdrawal of of that revocation. Before this change you could apply to surrender before the decision so that conversion could be made into the territories where you had use.  This option is no longer possible.  In the amended guidelines Part E which came into force in August 2016, it says that the other party in the cancellation proceedings will be notified. Indeed in today's webinar on the new guidelines the presentation says that the cancellation applicant will be invited to comment. However there may be subliminal surrenders prior to August where the cancellation proceedings are continuing unawares.

This amendment also means that getting in an application for revocation of a non-use is an even more powerful technique against an EU trademark, which may be in use only locally. Since use is exceptionally difficult to prove a cheap revocation is a mighty powerful weapon that makes everybody's EUTM extremely vulnerable. By contrast, hearing officers in the UK IPO are much more likely to believe your proof of use. They even assume that witness statement are true.

I made the case that EUTM were mis-sold back in 2015 . Now that we are faced with Brexit, it appears that many non-EU applicants are filing both EUTM and UK national marks simultaneously. If you're thinking of opposing a EUTM do check, you may have to file two oppositions, but the canny chartered trademark agents of the United Kingdom are already aware of that.