03 July 2017

What can a Barrister do for an Inventor that a Patent Attorney or Solicitor can't do just as well?

Jane Lambert

A flippant response to the above question might be: "Why do patent attorneys and solicitors seek counsel's opinion, instruct barristers to draft complex legal instruments or brief them to represent them before the courts or hearing officers on behalf of their clients?"  The obvious answer is that barristers can do some of those things better than other legal professionals can. That is not because barristers are brighter or more knowledgeable than other IP professionals but because we have two important advantages.

The first is that we know the judges who make the law. We know how they think which enables us to guess how they would analyse an issue that has not come in front of the courts before. We gain that knowledge by arguing against them when they are at the bar and before them when they reach the bench. Anybody can look up a statute or the case law which will describe the law as it stands today but only a specialist advocate can forecast accurately how the law will develop tomorrow.

Our other advantage is that we tend to be called in only after things have gone wrong. Through such experience, we learn how disputes or other difficulties arise and what could have been done to avoid them.  That experience also enables us to flag up potential difficulties before they arise and to suggest steps to avoid them.  That is why barristers are instructed to draft contracts and other legal instruments for use in business, particularly in new situations involving new technologies or new business situations.

Until 2004 our expertise could be accessed only if a solicitor, patent attorney or other professional intermediary instructed us.  Since then, it has been possible for businesses or individuals in the UK to instruct us directly. That does not mean that we now do patent attorneys' or solicitors' work. We remain a referral or specialist profession, but there is no longer a need to instruct an intermediary just to instruct us.  Also, if we believe that it is our client's interests to instruct some other legal professional, we are under a professional duty to say so.

That leads to yet another advantage.  We see a lot of patent agents, solicitors and other legal professionals in the course of our work and are thus in a unique position to judge their relative strengths and weaknesses.  We can, therefore, help members of the public who require the services of such an intermediary to identify one who will best suit their needs.

We can now be a point of entry to the legal services industry. Often the best time to instruct us is early in the life of a new business or the development of a new product because we can help with the formulation of an IP strategy, suggest the optimum legal protection for an intellectual asset and build a team of IP professionals.  I have listed some of the services that I offer on the Services page of this blog and you will find others on the equivalent page of my NIPC Law blog. Details of how to instruct me appear on the Instruct Me page.

If you want to discuss this article with me or you have a specific matter upon which you require some help, call me on +44 (0)20 7404 5252 or send me a message through my contact form.

Further Reading

Jane Lambert

01 July 2017

Animated Advice from across the Pond

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Jane Lambert

In Animated Advice 18 March 2016 NIPC News I introduced readers to some animations published by the Intellectual Property Office, the World Intellectual Property Organization and others. One of the films I mentioned was the IPO's IP BASICS: Should I get a patent?

Today I want to share with you an even more helpful animation published by the US Patent and Trademark Office ("USPTO") so long as you bear in mind that the USA is a different country, with different institutions and different laws. However, the United States like the United Kingdom is party to a number of international agreements such as the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights ("TRIPS") which requires each country's intellectual property laws to be broadly similar.

Here are also some points to bear in mind for British readers:
  • The USPTO is the place to start for inventors in the USA because it is the intellectual property office for that country but inventors in this country can start either at the Intellectual Property Office in Newport (look you) or the European Patent Office in Munich ("there's lovely for you!" as they say in Wales).
  • Our law does not expressly define an invention though it does list a number of things that can't be patented as such like computer programs or methods of doing business which are not specifically excluded in US law. Also, we cut out some of the verbiage like "machine" or "composition of matter." Basically, an invention can be patented on this side of the Atlantic if it is a product or process.
  • One reason why I really like this animation is that it advises inventors to consider writing a business plan and carry out some market research. I've been ramming that message home in my IP clinics, talks to inventors' clubs and blogs for years. Here is just one of my articles: "Why every business plan should take account of intellectual property" 3 Apr 2016 NIPC News.
  • The places where you can get help with your invention in this country would be the Business and IP Centres at the British Library next to St Pancras Station in London and the central libraries of Birmingham, Exeter, Hull, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Manchester, Newcastle, Northampton, Norwich and Sheffield. Those libraries are also part of a wider network of public libraries that are associated with the EPO called PatLib. If you study the list you will find help available in Aberdeen. Belfast, Glasgow, Plymouth and Portsmouth.  We no longer have anything quite as good as Business USA.gov in this country but we do have the Business and Self-Employed pages of the gov.uk website. Also, you can call me on 020 7404 5252 any time during business hours and I can point you in the right direction.
  • As in the USA, you can apply to the IPO or EPO for a patent without instructing a patent attorney but I would strongly advise you against it.  I know patent attorneys don't come cheap but there are funding schemes here to help you (see How Small Businesses can fund IP Advice and Representation 3 Sept 2016 NIPC News). By the way, the terms "patent agent" and "patent attorney" mean different things in the USA. There, a patent attorney means a lawyer specializing in IP but a patent agent is a non-legally qualified professional who prosecutes patent applications. Here, the terms patent attorneys and patent agents are used interchangeably. Patent attorneys in the UK are members of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys which used to be called the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents until a few years ago. Finally, the expression "pro se" is not used in this country. Those who apply for patents without the help of patent attorneys are usually referred to as "unrepresented applicants". 
  • In this country, we don't have "utility", "design" or "plant patents" as such but we do have registered and registered Community designs (for the time being) and EU and national plant breeders' rights  (see Jane Lambert Protecting Investment in New Plant Varieties 4 May 2016 LinkedIn). What Americans call "utility patents" are simply "patents" here.
  • There is no call centre in Newport or Munich like the Inventors Assistance Center but both the IPO and EPO publish guidance for unrepresented applicants on their websites and the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, Ideas 21 and I hold free consultations with an IP professional at towns and cities around the UK. Check out CIPA's IP Clinics page and Ideas 21's regular advice sessions in London. Mine are held in Barnsley on the second Tuesday of every month and you can book your appointment through the BarnsleyBiz Surgeries page.
Wherever you are in the country, you can call me on 020 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form.

European Inventor Awards 2017

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Jane Lambert

Every year the European Patent Office recognizes outstanding inventors from around the world who have made exceptional contributions to social development, technological progress and economic growth with the European Inventors Awards.

Nominations are sought in the following categories:
  • Industry: for outstanding and successful technologies patented by large European companies
  • Research: for pioneering inventors working at universities or research institutes
  • SMEs: for exceptional inventions at small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
  • Non-European countries: for all inventors who are not European nationals but have been granted a European patent
  • Lifetime achievement: honouring the long-term contribution of an individual European inventor.
The most recent award ceremony took place in Venice on 15 June 2017 and this year's winners were 
The above film shows the presentations. The winners were chosen from 15 finalists one of whom was Steve Lindsey from the UK who invented an energy-saving rotary air compressor.

Nominations are open for next year's awards. Anybody can propose any inventor including him or herself (see the Nominations page on the EPO's website).

Anybody who wishes to discuss this article or the legal protection and commercialization of innovation generally should call me on +44 (0)20 7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact form.