Category Archives: Legal practice

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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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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Do you trust your lawyer?

Marketing legal services is difficult. No-one with any sense chooses a specialist lawyer on the basis of their glossy brochure (or, nowadays, their website or LinkedIn profile) or slick Powerpoint presentation. How they come across in conversation may help, but you are still taking a big risk if that is all you have. You need to trust that they will do a good job before hiring them. You need other data points, such as the reputation of the firm in the market place. Ideally, you get a couple of recommendations from people you trust.

Once you have hired them (perhaps on a small project to start off with), you can assess better whether you are likely to hire them again. At this stage you have more data points to judge whether you trust their ability, fit and fee levels. Even now there is no certainty.

IP Draughts has helped many clients to hire other law firms (in the UK and overseas) and barristers. Over more than 30 years in private practice, he has been hired himself many times.

IP Draughts’ practice is evolving. He has no plans to retire from his IP transactions practice, but with 4 partners now to lead on this work, he is moving towards more advisory work, facilitation (particularly of multi-party negotiations) and mediation. He would like to do more chairing of organisations, following his experience particularly with the Law Society IP Committee. He thinks he would be an effective arbitrator, but getting into this field may be very difficult. He is not sure whether there is a collective name for these roles, but “wise head” and “experienced trouble-shooter” are as good as any.

But he is doubtful about the merits of energetic marketing of these services. Much better to do a good job on the projects he gets, and hope that word of mouth will lead to further instructions. He needs to build up trust in a market that is even more niche and specialist than IP transactions.

 

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