Decluttering, tidying, refocussing

It has been an eventful year for IP Draughts. There were some exceptional office administration issues last Autumn, now thankfully resolved. In February, IP Draughts’ mother died. Leaving aside the emotional aspects, dealing with the family home, and acting as executor, has been time-consuming. Those tasks are nearly complete.

In March we moved the office out of IP Draughts’ home to the excellent Howbery Park, three miles away. This year, we have acquired two excellent trainees and a paralegal, and recently an experienced corporate lawyer to help us with spin-out transactions. There are now 15 of us, which makes for a very different firm from the one IP Draughts started 25 years ago. He is grateful for the many messages of support and “likes” that appeared on LinkedIn in response to his previous blog posting about that anniversary.

Today, he has been de-cluttering his home office, which has been rather neglected recently. He still can’t bear to throw away his spiral-bound photocopy of the Sale of Goods Act, Unfair Contract Terms Act, and Supply of Goods and Services Act, which his secretary at Bristows copied for him in 1987. It is still occasionally useful. Among more recent documents, paper copies of the GDPR and the United Planet v Huawei case reports also survived the cull.

It’s time to focus on the future.

IP Draughts has had some very interesting client work recently, including helping to facilitate the negotiation and signature of several agreements that relate to a multi-party, £200M research project. The government press releases about this project include commentary from the UK Prime Minister. UKRI press release here. He would like more of this kind of work, as well as advisory work.

A highlight of this Autumn will be attending the annual conference of LIDC – the International League of Competition Law – in Paris in November. IP Draughts was asked to be the “international reporter” for a research project on how various jurisdictions deal with IP threats. In response to questions that IP Draughts set, he has received national reports from several countries, and has prepared a first draft of an international report that synthesises the national contributions and makes recommendations to national governments. Most of the civil law jurisdictions seem to rely on very similar laws in the field of unfair competition, which provide a remedy to someone who is on the receiving end of abusive litigation. The national reports and international report are due to be published as a book, after the conference.

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25 years of Anderson Law

Clearing out his parents’ house, a few weeks ago, has unearthed several treasures from the early days of Anderson Law.

A document dated 30 July 1995 lists some of the notable events of the firm’s first 12 months. It seems that we were instructed by 18 clients, on a variety of work, including:

  • drafting and negotiating a collaboration and licence agreement between a UK biotech company and a US biotech company
  • advising a German client on winding up a UK subsidiary
  • advising on a dispute over entitlement to royalties under an oral agreement
  • Obtaining tax counsel’s advice on an IP matter
  • advising a Dutch client on a licence agreement
  • planning and chairing a conference on technology transfer, in Brussels

Less positive was a mention of the firm’s first bad debt. 25 years later, we have encountered a few bad debts along the way but have also managed to grow to a point where there are now 15 people working at the firm.

Also among the papers were three reviews of the first edition of our book, Technology: the Law of Exploitation and Transfer (1996). A generous review by Paul Spink (then a lecturer in business law at the University of Stirling) concludes:

This is, quite simply, an excellent book. It will prove a boon to practitioners working in the field of technology law, and offers a valuable resource to any student or academic looking for a pragmatic, no-nonsense, nuts and bolts guide.

IP Draughts hopes that readers will find the 4th edition, now titled simply Technology Transfer, similarly valuable. It is due to be published by Bloomsbury Professional (the inheritor of many of Butterworths’ textbooks) in the next few months.

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Process trumps substance

It was fascinating to read this summary of an academic paper that analysed the costs involved in making proposals for grant funding. It seems that, sometimes, the effort made collectively by researchers making a proposal outweighs the benefits to society of the research that is funded.

What an extraordinary state of affairs, that a process designed to introduce competition and ensure that only the best research is funded, results in wasting public resources that could be better devoted to doing more research. As the abstract for the paper notes:

We find that the effort researchers waste in writing proposals may be comparable to the total scientific value of the research that the funding supports, especially when only a few proposals can be funded. Moreover, when professional pressures motivate investigators to seek funding for reasons that extend beyond the value of the proposed science (e.g., promotion, prestige), the entire program can actually hamper scientific progress when the number of awards is small. We suggest that lost efficiency may be restored either by partial lotteries for funding or by funding researchers based on past scientific success instead of proposals for future work.

On a different topic, but with some similarities, IP Draughts finds the work involved in submitting bids for legal work is very wasteful of resources, and increases the overheads of the law firms involved. He has been involved in both selecting lawyers and being selected over more than 30 years. He appreciates that, in some cases, public bodies are required by law to adopt such processes. But he is very sceptical of the idea that they result in (a) a better choice of firm than other, less formal, processes might select, or (b) a saving of money.

Several trends come together to make bidding processes popular. There is both the desire to reduce costs, and the desire to demonstrate fairness in selection by applying objective standards. Sometimes, there is also the desire to create a cloak of respectibility to cover a more personal choice.

These desires result in a written process. The process may be more suited to buying large quantities of office furniture than finding a law firm with the right cost base, good lawyers and an excellent “fit” with the client organisation. And, on a personal note, the processes tend to favour large suppliers rather than niche firms like ours.

Take another, unrelated example. A few years ago, funding was raised to build a footbridge over the River Thames, a few miles upstream from our offices. At a late stage in the planning process, it was decided that the cost of the bridge was going to be double what was expected, to accommodate the needs of wheelchair users. It was considered irrelevant that wheelchairs have rarely, if ever, been seen on either bank of the Thames at this point – a very rural location with rough footpaths alongside the river.

In the end, the plans for a footbridge were abandoned. Laudable desires to accommodate wheelchair users led to a process where their (somewhat theoretical) interests caused able-bodied people to lose a useful amenity.

It should be possible in these situations for common sense to prevail, which means supporting the person who stands up and says, we are going to ignore the process because, on balance, it isn’t right on this occasion.

Rant over.

 

 

 

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Pockets of inefficiency in large organisations

Two recent incidents have provoked IP Draughts to write this article. Today, he had to spend time dealing with a bank manager who wanted to know whether a substantial payment into our account referenced simply “B/O in Natwest Current” was one that IP Draughts recognised. The bank manager seemed to be doing a standard sanity check, perhaps to avoid money-laundering in “his” accounts.

After spending time checking, it turned out that this was a payment from one of our university clients. The reference had presumably been allocated by a junior accounts clerk. In IP Draughts’ view, accounts staff should receive training in how to make life easier for the parties with whom they deal. He decided not to point this out to the client, as previous experience suggests that there was a fair chance that no-one would appreciate it, or even realise why it was bad public relations to allow this kind of thing to happen.

In the past, he has occasionally received emails from the accounts departments of large organisations, requiring action. But the way the email was written made it look like spam (or worse) that should be deleted quickly rather than opened. No attempt was made to use the organisation’s logo, give contact details for the sender, or otherwise provide reassurance as to its validity and normality. Again, no-one was thinking about making the communication user friendly.

Recently, he was involved in a transaction with a multi-national company, and was checking that various agreements had been signed by the company. The signatories had applied rubber stamps next to their signatures that named them as authorised signatories on behalf of a different company to the one that was entering into the agreement. Fortunately, IP Draughts was dealing with an in-house lawyer whose integrity and reliability he trusted, and he took some comfort from this lawyer’s explanation that this point had been queried before (in other transactions), it was a standard process that signatories were required to follow, and the lawyer could assure IP Draughts that they were authorised signatories for the correct company and had signed on that company’s behalf. IP Draughts repeated this explanation to the other parties, who seemed to accept it. But this all took time to deal with.

In all of these examples, it seems that lurking in large organisations are pockets of inefficiency that cause others to waste time and effort. The inefficiency could be ironed out with a little bit of common sense.

But no-one in authority seems to care. Reason #68 why IP Draughts is glad he doesn’t work for a large organisation.

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