31 December 2006

New Year's Greetings One and All

I could not let the year turn without commenting briefly on some of the events of the last few months that I would have covered if I only had more time.

Legal Services Bill
First and foremost I am delighted to see that the Legal Services Bill has made it to second reading and is now in committee in the Lords 6 months after publication in draft on the Decaff website. The provision of most interest to me is Part V which provides for "Alternative Business Structures" in the delivery of "reserved legal activities", such as advocacy and litigation, and "legal activities" which includes any legal advice, assistance or representation by mixed legal and multidisciplinary practices. Public access has been a wonderful thing for me and indeed the SME in Yorkshire and Lancashire I advise and represent but although my clients and I are no longer dependent on intermediaries such as clerks and solicitors to do business with each other I am still limited in the services that I can offer. I still have to refer a client who wants to litigate to a solicitor or one who needs a patent, trade mark or design registration to a patent agent and, as often as not, the client cannot understand why. Now I have to make clear that I do not intend to start learning how to do patent agent or solicitor's work at my time of life but it will be nice to be able to work as a team with other legal professionals, preferably in the same building.

Patent Litigation Agreement
Although the idea of a European Patent Court has been on the agenda since the Paris Intergovernmental Conference of 25 June 1999, it was put to one side while there seemed a realistic prospect of the early adoption of a Community patent regulation. Such a regulation would have provided a Community Intellectual Property Court within the framework of the European Court of Justice. Although hope of adoption has not been abandoned altogether there are no signs that it will be taken up any time soon. Accordingly fresh impetus has been given to the idea of an optional litigation protocol to the European Patent Convention. EPO President Pompidou gave nearly half his presentation on Improving the European Patent to the topic on 20 December 2006. The latest step forward has been the approval by the patent judges of the European patent courts of rules of procedure of a European Patent Court at San Servolo near Venice on 6 Nov 2006. Sir Robin Jacob is due to address the patent bar on the 11 Jan 2007.

Patents Court E-Filing Project
A more immediate development closer to home has been the launch of an e-filing pilot for the Patents Court over the next few weeks. The pilot aims to evaluate the feasibility of a mechanism for electronically time-stamping and signing documents received at court over the internet. Initially only non-confidential skeleton arguments and attachments for hearings before Mr Justice Pumfrey will be filed in this way. Conveniently, the service will include an automated mechanism for exchanging skeletons.

Patent Office Website
Another useful development close to home has been the launch in September of the new Patent Office Website. It is a great improvement on the old one. It follows a consistent file structure and is hence much easier to navigate. One improvement that the Patent Office might consider is an RSS feed. If they don't get round to it I might be minded to do it myself - again when I have time.

Gowers Report
From where I sit the damp squid of the year was undoubtedly the Final Report of the Gowers Review on Intellectual Property. It recommended changing the name of the Patent Office to the UK Intellectual Propetry Office (recommendation 53) and that Office's continuing to raise public awareness by focusing in particular on the wider aspects of IP crime and exceptions to rights (recommendation 33) but was silent on the one issue that deters innovation in the UK, the prohibitive cost of patent litigation in the UK compared to the rest of the EC. Our courts are a happy hunting ground for foreign (mainly US) multinationals who can challenge SME' patents with impunity. It is high time for a re-balancing of the interests in favour of small business.

Jeremy Phillips's Visit to the North
Jeremy Phillips's promised visit which to the North - which fell victim to the England Trinidad match in June and logistics in November - will definitely take place at Kirwars' boardroom at their palatial premises on Water Street in Liverpool. Tickets are free. If you want to book, call Marianne Tuck on 0151 229 5600.

Finally, I should like to wish all my readers a happy and prosperous New Year.