Life as an IP Lawyer: Bratislava, Slovakia

The AmeriKat's professional life, be it on the Kat or sat at her desk litigating her hours away, involves a huge amount of coordination, support and opposition with lawyers from all over the world. One of the IPKat's key objectives is to bring this global IP community closer together by sharing IP decisions, legislation and practice from across the world with our readers, with the aim that by understanding our unique perspectives on the culture of IP practice we can work together to make IP a success story for innovators, creators, users and the public. With those grand aims, the AmeriKat thought it would be worthwhile to ask the next generation of global IP lawyers to illuminate IP practice in their jurisdiction, as well as to give readers some fun reading over their lunch-al-desko...


Zuzana Hecko explains what it is
like to be an IP lawyer in
For the third in the series, we travel 900 miles south east to Bratislava, Slovakia where IP lawyer Zuzana Hecko at Allen & Overy fights counterfeiters, battles getting confused with Slovenia and dreams of working in Hong Kong.

What can you see from your office window right now?

Our Bratislava office is located on the bank of the river Danube. The office is alongside “Eurovea“, a famous promenade with loads of cafés and restaurants. The view from my office window is straight onto the Danube.

When did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in IP?

I started to work in IP in 2008, when I was offered a temporary contract at the European Commission. At that time, the Commission was looking for staff from Eastern European countries (this was a few years after Slovakia’s accession to the EU). Since my LL.M. degree did not include IP law, straight after I started at the Commission I signed up to a specialised intellectual property course at the KU Leuven University and took exams in trademark, patents and copyright law. Working at the Commission was a great experience for a young lawyer. On the other hand, three years later, I realised that a public administration job does not entirely suit my personality. The private sector is much better for my temperament!

Walk us through a typical day...

I make it to the office around 9:30 am. I’m lucky enough that my days tend to be different and there is not much routine (although each day has to start with a cup of coffee). One day I might be fighting pharmaceutical copycats or cigarette counterfeiters, the next I may be involved in a transaction involving an IP aspect or speaking at a conference about drones. I tend to leave the office (on average) around 8.00 pm, although there may be days when I finish earlier or later. On top of my client work, I sometimes take on assignments (secondments) for various companies. Even though my permanent office base is in Bratislava, temporarily it may shift to another city. So luckily enough, there are not that many “typical“ days.

 What are the key differences in your system that clients/other lawyers from outside the jurisdiction find surprising or strange?

The IP practice in Slovakia is a "soft" IP practice. Patent litigators waiting for big patent cases in Slovakia would probably be “waiting for Godot”. Other than that, a positive surprise for clients is that injunctions in Slovakia are granted ex-parte and within 30 days from filing. These injunctions can sometimes already contain (allegedly infringing) product market recalls, demonstrating that preliminary protection does work in Slovakia. Proceedings on the merits, however, tend to take a long time. For example, if you litigate at the Bratislava court, it isn’t a surprise that the first (!) oral hearing is scheduled three years after you file the law suit. Hence, if the preliminary injunction hasn’t been granted, pursuing the case on the merits is often of little help. There is a light at the end of the tunnel though, as a new civil procedural code will enter into force on 1 July 2016 which will, to a certain extent, shorten the length of proceedings on the merits. The new civil procedural code also provides that in cases where the injunction provides sufficient protection for the plaintiff, a law suit on the merits doesn’t have to be initiated.

What are the key challenges that are facing the next generation of IP lawyers in your jurisdiction? How are those challenges different from the previous generation?

I dare to say that most challenges nowadays are faced by the previous generation. While younger generations speak many languages and have worked abroad, the previous generations didn’t have such opportunities because of the restrictive regime. The younger generation is able to see things from a wider perspective, is able to analyse know-how from other countries and is able to work better with EU law and the decisions from the Court of Justice of the EU.

IP is a field of law where developments happen almost every day. Therefore, to provide up-to-date advice, one has to cross boundaries of one’s own jurisdiction almost on a daily basis. IP is becoming to be seen as a “sexy“ field of law in Slovakia because it is often linked with new technologies and innovation. I therefore expect that this particular law segment will be increasingly attractive for young lawyers. This will be a source of many benefits for the industry, though also resulting in greater competition and pressure on fees.

What are the misnomers that people have about IP practice in your jurisdiction?

Nothing comes to my mind that would be specifically linked or related to IP. A general one would be that some clients still get confused between Slovakia and Slovenia. There have been occasions where I have been asked to advise on a Slovenian issue or asked to review documents in Slovenian. It always brings a smile to my face.

If you could change one thing about IP practice in your jurisdiction, what would it be?

Introducing the concept of punitive damages, which most countries, including Slovakia, currently don’t apply. If damages (only) compensate for the actual prejudice suffered by the rights owner as a result of the infringement, the deterrent effect of would-be infringers is non-existent.

The view from Zuzana's office overlooking the Danube

What gives you the biggest thrill in your job?

There is a famous saying which states that there is no better way of exercising the imagination than to become a lawyer. No artist will ever interpret reality as freely as the lawyer interprets the truth. Neither life nor the law is black and white, so defending IP is often a war of words. These words need to be precise and concise, yet very simple and most importantly, undoubtedly convincing. It may sound easy but it’s often a challenge.

What are the top trends or cases that we should be looking out for in your jurisdiction in 2017?

I believe that the amount of work in IP will be steady: it will not rapidly increase but it will not decrease either. The field in which expertise will increase rapidly in the next few years will be privacy law. Job postings for privacy officers or privacy lawyers seem to have doubled, if not tripled, in the last few years. No IP case has garnered such attention, publicity and controversy as when Mr Schrems filed a case against Facebook the result of which was the invalidation of the Safe Harbor data transfer scheme. This is because people are increasingly aware of the value of their privacy and do not want to “be watched“. Intelligent use of personal data that respects people’s privacy and limitations given by the law will be among the biggest competitive advantages in the coming years.

To be successful in your jurisdiction, what are the key skills a young IP lawyer needs?

I don’t think Slovakia is significantly different compared to other countries in this particular aspect. A client once told me that a good attorney is a lawyer where the client doesn’t need to worry about the law and can entirely shift his/her attention to the sales.  In a jurisdiction such as Slovakia, where IP is a relatively new and still developing field of law, it is imperative that an IP specialist is brought in to deal with an IP issue. In jurisdictions where judges are very experienced in IP cases and where IP litigation has a long history, there is a good chance that the judge will know the law even if the attorney isn’t a true specialist. In jurisdictions such as Slovakia, the judge may appreciate an IP specialist’s guidance. On the other hand, attorneys are only as good as the information clients provide them with. It’s unlikely that a judge will understand the issue if the attorney doesn’t fully grasp it.

What are you going to/what did you eat for lunch today?

With the approaching summer, I feel better just having something very light. I will probably grab a salad.

What other jurisdictions do you work with the most in your practice?

The Czech Republic. I find myself travelling back and forth between Prague and Bratislava on a regular basis. As Slovakia and the Czech Republic used to be one country before separation in 1993, many businesses operate cross-border. This is also due to linguistic similarities between the two countries. Taking advantage of the fact that we have offices in both Prague and Bratislava, clients often appreciate that we service both countries with one contact person as a one-stop-shop.

Looking into your crystal ball, where do you see the profession in 10 years’ time?

Trademarks, trade secrets, utility models and patents will always be relevant to protecting, managing, exploiting and leveraging both basic and improvement innovations. Recent (and increasing) statements saying that “copyright is dead” or that “there is too much of copyright“ raise question marks over this field of IP law. I’m a bit worried that people will increasingly ignore copyright if it doesn’t give them exactly what they want, both in terms of convenience and price.

If you could practice IP law anywhere else in the world for a year, where would that be and why?

That’s an easy answer. Hong Kong, the city that never sleeps, would definitely be my choice. I worked there back in 2011 and for a short while was in Gabriela Kennedy’s team (at that time a partner in Hogan Lovells). It was an awesome experience. When I finish work late in Bratislava, I usually drive home and the city is rather quiet and tranquil. When one finishes work at a late hour in Hong Kong, the city is still lively, there are many people on the streets and many shops are still open. The energy and the vibe of the city are very contagious.

Devin Castle - the view can be nicely paired with some currant wine and deer goulash

If you could have lunch with someone famous in the IP world (judge, lawyer, inventor, politician, alive or dead), who would that be and why, and where would you take them?

An easy and quick answer again. It would certainly be Margot Fröhlinger, principal director at the European Patent Office and previously a director at the IP Unit of the European Commission, or simply "Ms UPC". Margot was my boss when I worked for the European Commission. Margot combined a deep knowledge and passion for IP that mattered intensely to her. She is a very charming and inspirational person, very hard-working and it would be great to catch up again after all these years. Where would I take her? Well, it better be nice!

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

There are a couple. Under-promise and over-deliver but never the other way round. Or that the answer should never be "No, you can’t" but "Let‘s figure out how you can".

If our readers were to come to your city, what are the top three things you recommend they see, do and eat (in that order)?

There are many nice places but one which is particularly close to my heart would be Devín castle. The castle stands just inside Slovak territory on the frontier between Slovakia and Austria, along the Morava River and the Danube. Before 1989, the Iron Curtain between the Eastern Bloc and the West ran just in front of the castle. At that time the area was a restricted military zone surrounded by several watchtowers and barbed wire. After the Velvet Revolution the area was demilitarised. Nowadays Devín is a nice area for walks featuring small and cosy traditional restaurants. The area is well known for wine production. To many people in Slovakia the word "ríbezľák" (an informal Slovak name for currant wine) recalls memories of their grandparents, who used to manufacture this rather sweet wine some decades ago. The goal nowadays is to revive this tradition and produce wine whose quality is approaching the quality of popular grape wines. With the currant wine, Devín’s food speciality would be deer goulash.

Life as an IP Lawyer: Bratislava, Slovakia Life as an IP Lawyer:  Bratislava, Slovakia Reviewed by Annsley Merelle Ward on Thursday, April 14, 2016 Rating: 5

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