But who will regulate the regulators?

The IPKat has been hearing some dark rumours with regard to that little patch of the planet which is occupied by the body that purports to regulate the professional conduct of British patent and trade mark attorneys -- The Intellectual Property Regulation Board (IPReg). A little bird has let it be known that yesterday, while all good British souls were either worrying how to vote in today's General Election or grumbling about the unseasonal cold, the Council of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) was handed a document, produced by IPReg. This document, if the IPKat's little bird is to be believed, was intended to be approved without scrutiny at the meeting which proposed several interesting things. Thus
* IPReg would set its own salaries (not that there is any element of self-interest involved, of course, and not that there might be any legal issues to address);

* IPReg would be able to dispose of practice fees at its own discretion (rather than collect them for CIPA and the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys, ITMA, having been allocated a fixed budget, as provided for in the Delegation Document and statutory provisions);

* A further remunerated new executive member would be appointed by IPReg;
* CIPA and ITMA would be excluded from oversight of IPReg board meetings, contrary to the Delegation Document.
If these proposals, apparently buried in the document, were passed, IPReg might find itself in the enviable position of being able to levy whatever tax it liked on the provision of its services and pay a banker's salary for the public-facing role of key personnel. IPReg might also -- though it is believed to have no plans whatsoever to do so -- conduct monthly additionally remunerated meetings of its conduct committee, to do nothing other than review its own conduct.

IPReg has, at present, no fewer than 9 paid board members, a paid chairman (here) and a paid chief executive . There are fears that this body plans to recruit additional resources in the event it ever has a complaint to deal with. The IPKat, who is always happy to be put right if he's wrong, understands that IPReg is only competent to deal with a relatively small proportion of any complaints it might receive as the overwhelming majority will need to be handled by the Legal Services Board. Before IPReg was born, CIPA handled this function with a mere fraction of a person and, the story goes, had no complaints about its effectiveness.

Says the IPKat, if responsible and respectable members of the patent attorney and trade mark attorney are expressing their disquiet about the manner in which they are to be regulated, and if IPReg has become a genie that has escaped the lantern of CIPA/ITMA oversight, we should at least be alerted to the nature of the problems in question so that they can be addressed. If these rumours, and the substance that lies behind them, can be truthfully denied, no-one has anything to worry about. If however there is some substance to them, can they at least be addressed in a fair, reasonable, cost-appropriate and client-friendly manner?

Adds Merpel, it's election time in the UK and many of us are keen to remove Members of Parliament who have fed themselves handsomely from the public trough of expenses claim funds. Even though the majority of those MPs did nothing wrong and were only playing by the rules -- which they incidentally made for themselves -- the degree of public revulsion last summer was astonishing. IPReg, it is hoped, lies a long way from those excesses, but the principles are the same: accountability, the balance between self-interest and efficient public service, and the ease with which other people's money can be spent.
But who will regulate the regulators? But who will regulate the regulators? Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, May 06, 2010 Rating: 5


  1. Does anyone know whether this document was approved at the Council meeting? I sincerely hope not...

  2. It would be nice if CIPA council conducted its dealings with IPREG entirely transparently in the open rather than treating those who will pay for them with contempt and releasing only selective information. Can anyone more au fait with CIPA's constitution explain the basis for Council concealing such matters from members?

  3. Someone has suggested that, given the unedifying history of appointments and undisclosed payments to former chairmen a Freedom of Information request for the entirety of CIPA's dealings in setting up IPREG is now called for. Ideally it should be made by a brave retired member who isn't worried about being waterboarded every time he(or she) submits a CPD return from now on and who has a well-lit path home.

  4. Anonymous 5.18 pm - oxymoron?

  5. IPreg and ITMA seem to be slightly disorganised as it is. If you have ever dealt with the Law Society or SRA you will notice the difference. It is really worrying how IPreg seems to be without much oversight and it makes you question the whole system and ultimately, the worth of the qualification you are getting through them. CIPA seems to have done a great job so far, so what is going on?

    They really need make it a LOT more transparent.

  6. Well IPReg have now got a page on their website showing those very few firms that are regulated by them so a wee bit of transparency here.

    I agree that we need the documents published - I do not like this rumour and innuendo

  7. Whilst there is no good reason to let any facts get in the way of a good story, things are probably not nearly as sinister as the IPKAT suggests. Rather any documentation is probably just part of the on-going separation of regulatory and representative functions required by the Legal Services Act. This requires IPREGs funding to be ring fenced and independent of CIPA/ITMA. As for suggesting that this then gives IPREG freedom to spend, spend, spend, this rather overlooks the fact that IPREG’s functions are closely specified and IPREG’s funding is determined by the registration fees which are set in consultation with ITMA/CIPA and the LSB.

  8. Regrettably, this is entirely a case of not letting facts get in the way of a good -- in fact not even a very good -- story. The document in question was a confidential draft; it was provided as a starting point for discussion, in fact prior to discussion, and not for approval; and it will be discussed; and then it will be published when finalised. Even bearing that in mind, the content has been substantially misrepresented to make the "story". We regret that these details have been "released" in circumstances when the person doing so must have known that it was both inappropriate and harmful.

  9. @Alasdair Poore

    The confidential draft is a rather worrying "starting point for discussion", isn't it? Why not explain in more detail how it has been misrepresented?

    Maybe the "the person" that released the draft felt that the public should be informed about what IPReg was doing? Maybe that person felt that a bit of public interest would help the internal IPReg discussions?

  10. IPKat, is it true that the 'little bird' has been identified...


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