13 December 2005

Intellectual Property shouldn't be just for the Rich and Powerful

Until its merger with the Supreme Court by the Courts Act 1971, the Palatinate Court of Lancaster had exercised chancery jurisdiction in North-West England since 1351. It had enjoyed considerable independence including nominating its own silks. Judah Benjamin, the former confederate attorney-general, was denied silk in London for fear of offending the US government but was elevated to Queen's Counsel in Lancashire. I am proud to say that the members of the Northern Circuit rarely think twice about offending powerful interests when justice demands. We would be even less cautious of upsetting the present incumbent of the white house.
Even after the merger, the title of Vice-Chancellor survived, largely through the campaigning effort of a remarkable Cheshire solicitor called Dykhoff. However, while the Vice-Chancellor's title had survived, his status did not. When I returned to independent practice, the Vice-Chancellor was in fact a county court judge assisted by two deputies - one of whom pioneered active case management a decade before the CPR - especially before lunch when motion day fell on a Friday. There was in fact very little High Court business in the North. Half of the judges' time was spent in the Crown or county court.
Shortly after I had returned to Manchester in the mid-1980s, the Vice-Chancellor of the day, His Honour Andrew Blackett-Ord announced his retirement. Rumours spread that he would not be replaced and that all chancery business would be in London. I had been offered a tenancy at what were then by far the best chancery chambers in the North because I knew something about intellectual property and technology law. I was a bit of an oddity in that I had not read natural sciences at university and had been a pupil in general chancery chambers (albeit those in which Lord Hoffmann as he now is was practising. I had picked up my a pretty good knowledge and understanding of branding, computer and telecommunications law through serving as in-house legal advisor to VISA International for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. That experience did not impress the head of Francis Taylor Buildings or 6 Pump Court (now 8 and 3 New Square) - much less their clerks - but it did impress Butterworths who commissioned me to write the very first chapters on computer law and data protection for both the Encyclopedia of Forms of Precedents and Atkins Court Forms and it was also enough to get into Bridge Street Chambers in Manchester.
The prospect of losing the little bit of chancery work that we had to London impelled my chambers, and particularly Peter Keenan, to campaign for a successor to Andrew Blackett Ord. He produced an impressive dossier as to why the court should stay in the North. As I had worked for the Economist Intelligence Unit, Vivian Gray and Williams & Glyn's Bank before reading for the Bar I composed the economic chapter. So far as I can remember it over 20 years, my argument was that a modern business community depends on its professionals for advice on financial services, that they in turn rely on their lawyers and that their lawyers can gather the expertise necessary to give skilled advice only if there is a court doing commercial law. I can't say whether anybody took any notice of my argument but the Lord Chancellor certainly took notice of our campaign for we received the welcome news that a High Court judge would spend half of every term in Lancashire and Yorkshire. The first of those judges was Richard Scott who went all the way up to the House of Lords and he was followed by Andrew Moritt.
Although I went to school in London and university at St Andrews and Los Angeles, I was born in Manchester and am very attached to the North. I care about this region and would not want to live anywhere else. Over the last 100 years or so industry has retreated steadily and we have lost many of our best and brightest people to London and overseas. Most distressing of all is the development of a sort of cultural cringe that if you really want to get the best of anything you really have to get it from the South. The sad fact is that to a certain extent it is true but only because people who stay here lower their sites and will it to be so.
Now I don't think that has to be true which is why I have spent my career at the Bar in a field that has traditionally been practised only in London. The people who come to me are generally small businesses - many of them start-ups - who can usually afford to instruct only small and medium general practice law firms. Fee earners of those firms rarely stray into the High Court let alone the Chancery Division. Much of my time is actually spent on educating them which is why I have always published regular newsletters, given plenty of talks and kept a pretty comprehensive website on intellectual property and technology law.
Although my website was shortlisted for The Lawyer of the Year awards and we had all sorts of accolades from the legal press over the years people have complained that it is difficult to navigate. I have therefore spent the last month or so simplifying it and I am glad to say that the new site is up and running.
The emphasis of this new site is giving a good service. The question on the Home Page is "How can we help you" and visitors are given a choice of

- information on the law leading to this blog, the IP/it-Update resource which now has over 400 articles, case notes and presentations (many but by no means all of them indexed) and my inventors' site and blog;

- lawyers or clients looking for a specialist advocate or advisor can click on the specialist advice and representation link;

- those looking for advice on non-contentious work can link to my site since I do nearly all of that kind of thing here though we do have a member with a similar practice in Scotland who happens also to be expert in cross-border jurisdiction and remedies;

- there is also a link to my mediation, arbitration and expert determination page;

- there is a link to our domain name page which I call "Cyber-Repossess" for UDRP, DRS and Czech Court of Arbitration cases; and

- finally there is some information on our chambers with some history, links to our members, Lois, Alex and Richard.

This is meant to be a resource not an advertisement. I really hope it will be useful. If it can be improved let me know how.

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