Monday, 27 March 2017

Keeping the UK Trade Mark Register pristine

I am sure that many times you click the link to VIEW OWNERS OTHER MARKS and you don't always get what you expect. Strangely your trade mark seems to a lone wolf. Don't be misled? Many trade mark owners never bother to synchronise their portfolios.

Even though the UK -IPO do not charge a fee for the update of a name or address using a Form TM21A most representative's will charge for the update. Making this type of change is currently fairly time consuming for an owner or his representative. I have just spent 40 minutes from start to finish dealing with one simple change. If I had done the same thing at the EU IPO it would be all sorted in maybe 4 - or perhaps two times that because I did the change of representative on my UK case at the same time and that would have been a separate operation prior to the name change at EU IPO.

So because its really nice to View owners other marks and because its even nicer to offer owners a free service to make these simple updates - could we ask the smart masters of the website to consider whether the next form to migrate to being online could be the TM21.

It might need some added security as we don't want incorrect updates to be registered and being fee-free might allow some nefarious activity to take place. However I am sure that could be managed. I have no evidence that EU IPO have suffered unduly from false amendments.

With many trade mark owners reviewing their portfolios in readiness for #Brexit this would be a good time to make this available.

What do folk think ? would this improve the service to both the public and the trade mark owners.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

ACID stands up for the UK profession

One of the greatest supporters of the UK creative sector is Dids Macdonald and the Anti Copying In Design Group ACID which she masterminds. I frequently suggest to my creative clients that they become members as they start their business journey. I notice on twitter that Dids was concerned that Brexit meant the loss to UK designers of Community Unregistered Design Right - not something that is much enforced. In the UK our own unregistered design right has a far longer duration but it obviously does not give you free rights beyond the English channel.

As I have previously discussed many design clients are generally unwilling to pay for even great value legal support.
Cath Kidston's registered Design DM/093635-12

The real loss to those UK based designers is the ability to register a Community Registered Design without legal representation. Post Brexit they will need to work with a representative. This can't be a local UK one unless some deal is done. Its hardly likely that a deal will be done to allow UK representative to act before the EU IPO. Its not going to be a high priority for the UK government in the negotiation due to the low value of existing business to the UK legal profession that will be lost.

However the UK government is committed to joining the Hague System. At present a UK designer can access Hague as an EU citizen because the EU is a contracting party. Not that many do as you can see from the Hague Express Database which reveals only 3 designs with GB addresses registered so far in 2017. However post the UK accession to Hague it will become a great deal more attractive. With a single application you can have a UK registered design and a Community Registered Design and if you wish ask for protection in any of the other territories which are Hague Contracting parties Switzerland Norway and Turkey are the useful European contracting parties. US and Japan are the most likely to be of economic value to British designers.

Therefore my free advice to British creatives is that registration via Hague is your best route to protection beyond these shores. Cath Kidston thinks registration may be useful but her highly creative company is choosing to register the type of textile fabric design that is the simplest to represent as shown above. The Cath Kidston business will also have copyright in that design but  no doubt appreciates that the proof of copying element of a copyright case can be onerous.

Planning for Brexit for our UK clients is something we should now be considering. Using Hague is just one proposal. In future posts I would like to consider what is the best advice for our UK clients to prepare their IP portfolios. It seems we can rely on CIPA and CITMA to do the best they can for our overseas clients.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

CIPA consultation on CPD

CIPA Education Committee have produced a document which is fulsomely described as a Framework for Professional Development. They want our comments on it by 10 March 2017 so do jump to it - they clearly need help. I had hoped it was going to propose the end of the CPD hours culture in favour of results, but no.

The idea seems to be that they need to know what a qualified patent agent needs to learn in order to develop and maintain his professional competence. This will guide the educational provision.

Once one has got over the "Teach Speak Jargon", we find that they believe we need to have skills, knowledge, values and behaviours. I accept that skills and knowledge can be learned taught and developed, but I am not too sure about the last two. Once upon a time lawyers studied ethics which generally dealt with the practicalities of not acting for both sides in an argument and managing the clients funds but such practical issues don't seem to be within the scope of this framework. Least said about "behaviours" the better.

Let me turn to what I do understand. There are lists of skills and lists of knowledge.

At the end of the list on knowledge we have:
2(g) a member should have a sound understanding of the law and practice as it relates to designs, trade marks, copyright, licensing, due diligence, contract and competition law to enable them to identify the implications of such laws and practice for clients and to enable them to refer clients for further professional advice and guidance as relevant and appropriate
Frankly this narrow focus on patent practice is disappointing. Now that CITMA has its charter are we dropping our interest in the core intellectual property fields of trademarks, designs and copyright? I think we need to put Mr Ferrara right.

The list of skills is extremely flowery. Some are the basic drafting skills that are a prerequisite for qualification. Other so-called skills are frankly patronising : do you want to be trained in how to "be able to adapt style and approach to meet the needs of clients".  One skill that seems to be particularly important is managing the expectations of clients who expect their unadapted applications to be examined any time soon by the EPO or UK IPO.

This list does not provide any suitable structure for developing educational offerings.

When seeking education, focusing on knowledge always helps. The core of the CIPA offering needs to be keeping up to date with developments in IP law in our home jurisdictions. The suggestion that the same level of emphasis needs to be placed on ALL overseas jurisdictions is odd. Its all too easy for CIPA to succumb to visiting overseas' professionals desire to give "marketing" updates in the name of education. Education in the laws and practices of the main trading partners of this country is what we need. We need to direct our eager marketing volunteers into discussing practical issues that are likely to be relevant to our local clients.

Item 2(f) : approaches to competitor IP is not knowledge -its a skill.

The values and behaviours are the province of IPREG and codes of conduct.

An educational framework needs to be more skeletal and be a tool that those organising programmes and events can work with. This framework does not seem likely to help.

We need courses and support on:
  • keeping up to date on IP law
  • improving  skills of drafting and advocacy for preempting and responding to office actions
  • developing litigation skills
  • listening and receiving feedback from users of IP on what they need
  • managing our own businesses - includes ethics
What do you think you need CIPA to provide for you?



Saturday, 18 February 2017

IP Entrepreneurs: the practical checklist

CITMA magazine in February 2017 published an article under this title with contributions from a panel of  trade mark attorneys who have started out independently. If this has inspired you, here is a more practical checklist (in no particular order). We have covered quite a few of these issues before so its always worth a read of the archives particularly Sally's Moving Series from 2015

Legal Structure

Sole trader or incorporate a company. A company keeps your business life separate from your personal life but if you are going to be regulated don't do anything clever with the shares or you may find yourselves a one man ABS. Creating a company is ridiculously easy but maintaining requires  a little more effort. It may be worthwhile using a company secretarial service who can help with . I use Goodwille.

Accounts

The article emphasised the value of getting a good accountant you can work with long term. Bookeeping is vital from day one and it makes sense to decide whether you will outsource that - maybe to your compnay secretarial service - or do it yourself.  Software is readily available and it helps if your accountant can read your data. After many years using Sage I have converted to the Clearbooks online system that can cope with multicurrency accoutants and is very handy for my EU IPO and EPO deposit accounts.

Bank

Keeping business money separate from personal money is vital so you will need a bank account. Thats not as easy as it was. A bank with a good online banking interface is useful for avoiding excessive costs. I use Barclays. I've tried Lloyds which was quite helpful in providing a debit card which is useful for paying fees on websites. Business credit cards may not be that easy to get hold of on day one.

Funding

You do need some start up funding and not just to live on before you start paying your own salary. Starting softly as a tied consultant to a former employer can minimise the sums required. If you are using your own savings then recording your loans is vital so you can pay yourself back once bills get paid.

Regulation

If you want to benefit from advertising yourself as Chartered you will need to deal with IPREG and that means creating your terms of trade consistently with their requirements and creating some policies and procedures.

Insurance

Even without regulation some professional indemnity insurance is desirable. PAMIA is the goto service for most pure IP attorneys. Other insurers are available. Don't forget to put a limitation of liability into your terms of trade too.

Office

You need somewhere to work especially if you intend to employ other people. A solo practitioner can work at home with a laptop at least to begin with.

Record Keeping

For a trademark or patent attorney having some way of maintaining records is important. I use Marco a system that Filemot licenses to others at very reasonable cost. its based on Microsoft Access. Today folk seem to want web based services like WebTMS and others are available. Please comment if you have your own recommendations.

Clients

This can be an issue. If you are coming out of employment, restrictive covenants will stop you workign for you old clients, but only for a period. Business networks, contacts of all sorts and advertising will find business. If you look at the number of "agents" names appearing in the UK Trademarks Journal that include the word "trademark" you will appreciate just how much business is driven today by GoogleAds. However these are expensive clients to procure, very price sensitive and seldom provide repeat business. Working all possible work referrers is the best method. Let your satisfied clients know that you would love it if they mentioned you to their contacts. If you dont ask for referrals you won't get them. Some say you need a website or use social media.

Payroll

The whole object of workingis to generate income so you need to pay yourself and contribute to your pension (even if you dont want to -its the law). HMRC has a lot of helpful information and tools for new employers including free payroll software to calculate PAYE and NIC.

 

 


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.