I was jolted from my reverie during the UK-IP Office's IP awareness seminar at the Thackray Museum in Leeds last week while listening to Bobby Smithson justifying the existence of patent agents (oops "attorneys") by reading out claim 1 of caveman Ug's patent specification for a revolutionary prehistoric invention known as "The Wheel". Ug had had a bash at drawing up his own patent application but decided to consult a patent attorney.
So far good lullaby until Bobby described a patent attorney as a sort of "specialist lawyer".
"What!" I retorted. "Yes, yes" said Vivian Irish who was sitting next to me. "We advise on the law."
"So do accountants, tax consultants, planning consultants and costs draftsmen" I replied. "If you why not them?"
Personally, I can't see why patent agents changed the name of their profession from "patent agent" to "patent attorney". It seems about as footling as changing "plaintiff" to "claimant" or "Patent Office" to "UK IP Office." The name and status of the profession had been protected by s. 276 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 which is more than most professions can claim.
Still less can I understand why the members of this very exclusive profession should want to attach themselves to a profession ehjich competes for the wooden spoon of public esteem with estate agents and Members of Parliament (particularly those of a New Labour persuasion).
But even if it were advantageous for patent attorneys to call themselves lawyers, does their entitlement to apply for patents, advise on IP law, argue before the comptroller (er sorry Mr Fletcher "chief executive of the IPO") of for that matter the Patents Court make them such? They certianly know a lot of law, and they do a lot of things that lawyers can do, but the difference is that they specialize. I know that patent counsel and patent solicitors also specialize but they do so by choice. If they so wish they could appear before a master of the Court of Protecon or the Berwick on Tweed justices to do a plea in mitigation. Patent agents can't even though intellectual property cases rarely come neatly packaged. There is nearly always a connected contractual, trust or insolvency issue.
I think the difference between a patent agent and a lawyer is analogous to the difference between a court and a specialist tribunal. You agree, right!