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Thursday, 26 August 2010

Regulating the IP professions: need for more transparency and trust?

The IPKat has picked up scent of a story that IPReg (the UK's Intellectual Property Regulation Board, set up by the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys -- CIPA -- and the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys to undertake the regulation of their respective professions) is meeting on this very day in order to discuss a proposal to increase the fee for regulating practitioners by a handsome and inflation-busting 40 per cent. Cats don't have nests and are not usually sensitive to nest-building operations by regulatory bodies, but a little bird has suggested that this may be the case here and has commented to the IPKat as follows:

"It was expected that IPReg's eye-watering ”startup” costs might reduce after the first year. However, IPReg now wants to employ another person full-time to get the required proportions as between lay and professional members. They also want to set up IT infrastructure to duplicate what is freely available".
The suggestion is also made that the meeting has been timed for today so that CIPA, the senior body within the IP professions in the UK, will have only one council meeting before IPREG's budget has to be approved, so it will be bounced into approving the budget on the basis that there isn't time to query it.

The IPKat does not know whether this is true and hopes that it is not, but feels that this is not the sole issue. He senses that there is a degree of unease or distrust, and some fear, of IPReg within the IP professions; he also feels that all of this can be cured by transparency on IPReg's part, backed by strong and effective public relations. He doesn't know if anyone has any figures, but he wonders whether IP professionals have more complaints about IPReg than the general public has about them.

Merpel is curious to know which countries outside the UK have regulatory bodies for the IP professions that operate in similar ways, and what the experiences of those countries might be.

IPReg's position on fees, and table of current fees, here.

12 comments:

Dr. Michael Factor said...

In Israel, the Association of Israel Patent Attorneys is voluntary. Since it is 'controlled' by 2-3 of the bigger firms who block-vote by proxy which is unconstitutional, and since they are not overly active, there are many practitioners that don't bother paying membership, although it is not expensive.
Unlike in the UK, it is considered illegal for non-licensed practitioners to provide IP advice or to help clients fill out the forms, etc.

The Israel Commissioner of Patents recently issued a stern warning to non-licensed practioners - See: http://blog.ipfactor.co.il/2010/08/23/israel-patent-office-issues-warning-to-unlicensed-ip-practitioners/

Filemot said...

A little more love needed here. We need IPReg otherwise its the Solicitors Regulation Authority and no regulation at all for the majority of the patent and trademark profession that are not solicitors. this is a perfectly feasible option but it is not in the public interest. IPReg need more staff and our support.

Anonymous said...

As the cat says, transparency would help. The government is being more transparent about salaries and where money is being spent to try to cut waste and gain public support, the BBC is being more open about how it spends licence payers' money. CIPA runs, and is financially liable for the cost of and any fines for the mistakes of, IPREG.
If a full breakdown of expenditure, functions, roles, experience and justification (i.e. why such expenditure or person were required to meet statutory obligations) were published and could be seen to be transparently reasonable, griping would presumably stop. No one can reasonably object to proportionate regulation or doing efficiently what is needed to comply with statutory requirements. I am not aware anyone objected to CIPA using fees to run the disciplinary function in the past.
The natural suspicion is that the details of expenditure and activities are withheld because they would not stand up to scrutiny of those paying for them as justified and necessary.
Whereas details of individual cases (if there ever any come along which fall within the limited remit of this vast body!) may be sensitive, there is no objective reason why complete business information should not be available to all those who are effectively shareholders and funders, if not to the general public.
If IPREG were able to publish and be blessed rather than damned, great.

Anonymous said...

Eye-watering? Perhaps for Scrooge. Tittle tattle.

IPREG is small. The patents profession is small. A single additional person for IPREG is bound to have a "big" impact on both.

I'm small (OK large but singular) and any increase would have a bigger proportionate impact on me compared to the Fat Kats, who would only need to increase their fees by 0.25% to meet the 40% increase. Funny thing percentages!

I support the increase for effective regulation.

Anonymous said...

What does IPReg actually do? Other than costing money? I am not sure I know what they are actually doing.

Anonymous said...

There is always more than one way to skin a cat.

Hector the Protector said...

@Anonymous 3:01pm. There may be more than one way to skin a cat - but there are loads of ways to fleece a trademark or patent attorney. More seriously, once skinned the cat remains skinned - but the IP attorney's fleece is a renewable commodity.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 1:35.

Do? Regulate.

I would hope that they are mostly sitting around twiddling their thumbs.

@Anonymous 3:01.

In the UK "It's Cool For (Fat) Kats"

@Anonymous 3.49.

Do you know I have never seen a fleeced trademark or patent attorney. Please post a picture. I have seen more than a few fleeced patent owners though!

I'm reassured that the UK IP profession is so robust that it is able to renew it's fleece an almost unique property in UK commerce. Hurrah!

Hector the Protector said...

@Anonymous-multiple-commentator:

"Fleece" is a metaphor. PAs and TAs can be fleeced of their time, their dignity and their sense of proportion as well as the trifling matter of their money.

Derek said...

In the US, patent practice per se is regulated by the US PTO. There are fees to take the registration exam and to be registered on passing it, but there is no annual fee. One was proposed a couple of years ago (around $125 if I recall), but the proposal has lapsed if not been officially withdrawn after howls of protest from the profession. Trademark practice is regulated only by State laws (the US PTO requires that practitioners be attorneys, but does nothing to regulate them). State Bar fees for attorneys vary hugely - in California, where I practice, the basic fee is around $300 per year. There are of course voluntary associations, like AIPLA and INTA, but they are just that - voluntary. As an outsider, IPReg sounds like the nanny state run wild.

Guy said...

Re Derek's comment on the USPTO practice of not charging an annual fee for registration. It can take two or three years for deceased patent attorneys to disappear from the USPTO list!

Jeremy said...

A correspondent, who has requested anonymity, writes:

"As academic institutions, we (and our students) clearly have a problem if we don't know if our courses are accredited or not. In particular, it is outrageous that IPReg does not provide timely and transparent information about changes to the accreditation process, despite repeated requests. Students need to know if our courses provide a route into the profession before they apply".

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