The current issue of IPInsight ("the free e-newsletter brought to you by the Business Outreach and Education team" of the UK's Intellectual Property Office), leads with a feature entitled IP complaints. Its text reads as follows:
"Unhappy with your IP adviser? Your chances of holding them to account are about to improve.The IPKat is happy to see all professions regulated, and he sees no reason why the IP professions should be treated differently. He is also pleased to see that IP users are being brought in to the review process. However, he wonders whether he is alone in considering the tone of this article to be unnecessarily offensive. It demeans the work that has gone into regulating the patent and trade mark professions in the past and the comment about cosiness strikes a gratuitiously unpleasant tone. Has the IPO fallen out with the professions, or is it merely sticking pins into them for the fun of it, to remind them that, while a dissatisfied client can change his professional representative, you can't change IPOs if you fall out with people working in the one you've already got?
A bill for £2,000 lands on your desk. It is from your IP attorney. Sure, they have been working on your case. But where has this bill come from? Did anyone ask whether you wanted the work doing? Actually, you might have liked it done differently. Or not at all.
At the moment, you can complain, of course. First, you raise it with your attorney. Then, go to one of the two professional institutes: The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) for patents, or the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (ITMA) for trade marks. But it feels as if they are all in the same boat. Nobody sees it your way round.
Next year, any such cosiness is being blown away. The professional institutes are losing their regulatory role. In future, they are being freed to concentrate on representing their members. From early next year, a new regulator, The Intellectual Property Regulation Board (IPREG), also known as IP Reg, will be responsible for ensuring high professional standards. The chief executive is Mike Knight, a former examiner at the Intellectual Property Office, who is used to casting a sceptical eye over IP attorneys.
In drawing up new policies for conduct, discipline and qualifications, he is under the direction of a board that includes IP users as well as attorneys. It will mean a big change in how the profession works. "We are turning it the other way round. We will be setting down standards in light of what the public expects. It will be no longer a question of what professionals think they ought to have achieved."
Knight will have little tolerance for anyone saying that IP varies too much from case to case. "Everyone is providing a legal service. We want to make sure attorneys tell their clients where they are going, what they are doing for them, what they can expect and how much it will cost. The best attorneys do it already. We want to spread these practices throughout the profession, so on each the client knows what to expect."
As a user, you can go to the IPREG website to take a look at the code of conduct and the qualifications expected of attorneys. Because the needs of a lone inventor and a global brand are so different, Knight is wary of producing a template for IP agreements, but in the code of conduct, you will find examples of what IPREG expects to see in a contract.
These standards, written under the influence of IP users, will be how the profession is judged in future. If you are unhappy, you will have a clear framework on which to base any complaint. If your attorney gives an inadequate response, you then go to another new independent body: the Office of Legal Complaints.
After taking an initial look at whether you have a genuine grievance, they will ask your attorney to put up a hefty sum to cover the cost of the investigation and any redress. If they are cleared, it will be returned to them.
But the principle is there that 'the polluter should pay', says Knight. "We want to win respect for a profession with high standards. If you are a bad attorney, you will pay for it."
IPReg website here
Rules of Conduct for Patent Attorneys, Trade Mark Attorneys and Other Regulated Persons here
"You want to complain!" -- the Monty Python sketch