The IPKat would like to hand over this post to Alex Thurgood, an English patent professional living and working in France. Alex has some very interesting things to say about what is currently going on in the IP profession over there. The following is written in Alex’s own words (only mildly edited by the IPKat):
Just in case you weren't aware, there is a bit of a war of words going on over here in France at the moment, in relation to the potential future merger/acquisition of the French Bar with the IP attorney profession. Things are heating up now that the French Bar Association has made its position clear, which is that they will allow those who are already registered IP attorneys to join, but not all those wannabe's (i.e. our hardworking engineering and scientifically qualified juniors), who are going to have to sit the same qualifying exams as any normal wannabe barrister, in addition to the exams patent attorneys have to pass.
Ooops, there goes the patent attorney profession !!!
What this means is that a freshly qualified engineering graduate or PhD student will, if he is fortunate enough to find someone willing to take him on and train him, have to jump through rings, hoops, nay fire, for at least 6 years before being able to have a hope of calling him/herself an Avocat spécialisé en propriété intellectuelle (even the name may change apparently). The candidate will have to sit :
- CEIPI 1 (IP Law) - similar in substance to the PG courses offered by Bournemouth or Queen Mary's from what I can judge
- CEIPI 2 (French law of obligations, tort, ethics, constitutional law, community law, etc,etc)
- pre-CAPA - I have no idea as yet what exactly this will consist of, although it is supposed to be the equivalent of CEIPI 1 and 2
- the EQE (yes, obligatory, otherwise the candidate will be doomed to failure and wandering in the wilderness)
- CAPA : bar exam, where IP will be but one option among the 20 or so subjects that are tested.
In essence, the new system, if it were to go through, would require engineering or scientific based candidates to have the same knowledge as someone who has spent 6 years in law school, with a pass rate at the final exam of about 1 in 20.
Needless to say, which right minded trainee would want to go through all that, when they could just go and study law for 6 years instead ?
Where will we get our engineers from ?
The Bureau of the CNCPI, in its thirst for acceptance of the proposal, has been brandishing the spectre of deregulation, which will come anyway at some stage, and has now initiated a huge "win 'em over" campaign, blogs, stock and barrel. What the bureau fails to have seen is that, despite the mandate they were given at the AGM by the "majority" (I use that term lightly) of CPIs, they have not followed that mandate and appear on the face of it to have accepted what is totally unacceptable for many today, and especially for those who officially have no voice within the CNCPI: the trainees !!!
If you are an adept reader of French, then you may wish to peruse the CNCPI blog, which it has to be said, is illustrative of the lack of freedom given to its members, other than commenting on the crass contributions made by the moderator of the blog, an unknown, and non practising Doctor at Law, rather more versed apparently in constitutional law than anything to do with IP.
Another, more thought provoking blog is that of my erstwhile fellow Pierre Breesé.
It goes without saying that should we lose our identity in this big mess, then that'll mean more work for you guys [IPKat comment: i.e. patent attorneys outside France, and particularly those working in English], since French industry has already given this project the big thumbs down, and it will inevitably turn to IP service providers who are technically capable of understanding what it is they are trying to protect. Maybe you should start recruiting now ;-)
French industry has already said that it is largely against the merger, because inevitably the temptation will almost certainly be to align our prices with those of the barrister profession, and as a consequence many industry representatives, including the MEDEF (French equivalent to the CBI), have said that they will direct their IP work demands for day to day prosecution and filing to non-French firms, i.e. English and German firms essentially.
[In response to a question about whether this might mean the gradual death by retirement of the French IP profession:] As for growing old, we already have a problem, even without the future proposed integration. According to the statistics, roughly about one third of the French profession is due to retire over the next 10 years, and at present numbers of newly qualified entrants is well below the amount required to maintain the status quo. The whole of the French private practice IP industry only amounts to some 700 or so licensed professionals. If the merger goes through, then even fewer engineers will take the path to full qualification, and fewer still will pass, which as you surmise, will probably lead to the extinction of the patent attorney species as we know it in France. Certainly, in terms of client satisfaction, French industry is none too keen on the prospect of having to work with pure "lawyers" with no scientific background for the protection of its industrial innovation.
Although I was initially personally in favour of the merger, at the start the proposal involved maintaining our recognised specialised status and only having one extra adaptative exam for the new entrants (the grandfather clause would have existed for those already registered as IP attorneys), which in the end wouldn't have been too burdensome. The French Bar Association, however, has scuppered that intention because it felt that to allow anything else would be detrimental to its (rather poor IMO) public image and would be lowering its standards to accept the plebs (sorry for my somewhat ironical tone here) they call IP Attorneys (trademark and patent attorneys alike). They are also dead scared, for some obscure reason, that we are all suddenly going to compete with them for their client base!!! I must admit that I, and indeed the majority of my peers, have absolutely no intention of doing anything else in terms of legal services other than IP, and additionally, we are, as I said, only 700 or so, compared to 40,000 barristers nationwide. But this was not sufficient for the CNB, hence the draconian terms :-) There is even a plan by the CNB to make it illegal for European Patent Attorneys from practising independently, other than for filing and prosecution - no counselling though, in order to prevent groups of EPAs from forming independent companies and competing outside of the one big legal happy family we are all supposed to become.
There is a CNCPI AGM planned for May 13th, so we shall have to wait and see what kind of resolution is going to be put forward to us, but if we do decide to go ahead with the "collective suicide" then it is pretty clear that the face of IP representation in France as we know it, will change drastically. Oh, and as the proposal currently stands, if it goes through, we all have to become Avocat, it’s an all or nothing decision, there will be no possibility of remaining and IP Attorney on an individual basis, if you refuse, you will simply lose your current title and not be allowed to operate in France. And here was I thinking that lemmings lived in Scandinavia ?
I must admit as an Englishman in France, I would find this all quite amusing if I didn't have some heart for the youngsters that I'm training and are not yet qualified (aside from the extra financial burden that all of this will entail for the partners).
Alex summarises by suggesting that, if the proposal goes through, it will be a wonderful opportunity for other European patent firms to expand their horizons to the French client market. The IPKat tends to agree, as he can only see the French patent attorney profession gradually withering away through a combination of natural wastage, high prices, and a lack of new recruits if the merger goes ahead as planned.