Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The truth revealed

23 October 2014, 8 pm

Recently my blog has been likened to Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal.  This is a trifle worrying.  I think maybe it is time to set the record straight, particularly since I have just been writing about the annual Council pantomime.

To clarify:

  1. My blog is emphatically not a proposal.  I will not be putting it before Council nor any of the CIPA Committees.
  2. It is therefore unlikely to be adopted as official CIPA policy.  Except perhaps the bits about the Biscuit Pixies.  Which are not, on their own, going to undermine the fabric of the Institute.
  3. I have never advocated that patent attorneys should sell their children to be eaten by rich barristers.  I think that would be absolutely and completely unacceptable, especially since many barristers are vegetarians these days.  (For the record, however, I do believe that it is socially irresponsible of patent attorneys to have children in the first place.  Psychiatrists are busy enough as it is.  Possibly these children, if they must exist, should be put to work checking for typos in government documents, although the hours would be long and the rewards few, I fear.)
  4. Occasionally I exaggerate or satirise things in my blog.  Or make them up completely.  This is another reason (like you needed another) for not taking it seriously. 
  5. Also it has no basis and is unsupported by any known authority or indeed by any genuine evidence or research. 
  6. I am unfortunately unable to flag up which bits of the blog are made up and which are not, for artistic reasons.
  7. Not that many people read it anyway.
  8. I am not modest.  Or genteel or in any other way respectable.

Subject to your acceptance of the above caveats, do please read on.  In fact, I strongly recommend that you do, because as of 1 January 2015, only registered followers of my blog will be eligible to attend CIPA meetings and vote in the Institute elections.  I proposed this to myself yesterday and carried it nem con.

And now I will go back to writing the pantomime script.  It is a new story: VeePee and the Biscuit Pixies.  And not a word of it is true.

Pantomime time!

23 October 2014, 4 pm

Now we are plotting to make the Education Committee more entertaining.  Frankly, all of the committees could do with being a bit more entertaining, but you have to start somewhere. 

Having discussed all manner of bold and heretical changes, which I cannot divulge here because they are SECRET but which may include changing the frequency of the Committee meetings, our conversation strays onto something very different indeed: the annual Council pantomime.  I say “the”, but actually there is no antecedent yet: it is just such a brilliant idea that we are sure the lack of antecedent will not worry even the most pedantic of patent attorneys. 

The Council pantomime will be similar to a Council meeting, but with one or two significant improvements.  For a start there will be custard pie fights, or more precisely caramel custard tart fights.  (I do like a good tart fight.)  Instead of sober suits there will be sequinned leotards, feathers and thigh-high boots.  If anyone asks where Mr Davies has put the Bye-Laws we will all shout “Behind you!!” and if they say something is outrageous we will shout “Oh no it isn’t!  We have yet to cast the key characters but there is likely to be strong competition for the evil villain and quite a few takers for the principal boy.  Mr Lampert and Mr Davies will be the front and rear ends respectively of the pantomime horse, Mr Davies being the best person to go at the back because he can deal with the plumbing.  And the EyePeePee will be the pantomime tractor, which was not in the original script but he is very pleased we have added it for him and even more pleased that Mr Davies has volunteered to help with the valves.

The dame will be a tough one.  No-one on Council is capable of being coarse enough, not even me, and none of us really has the figure for it.  We may have to call in one of the builders from Chancery Lane instead: there are plenty of them.  Each one appears to have a particular scaffolding coupler to look after, and they have to stare at their scaffolding coupler all day, trying not to get distracted by passing females and taxis and things that make their heads itch under their hard hats.  Since scaffolding couplers do not move very often, unless a major Bad Thing is about to happen, these people must surely have plenty of free time in which to take part in a little light amateur dramatics. 

We should also decide which fairy story to use as the basis for our pantomime.  But it’s not crucial; we don’t usually stick to the agenda so why would we stick to a storyline?

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Bad plumbing; great meeting

23 October 2014, 3 pm

At my third meeting of the day, someone finds out that Mr Davies used to be a plumber.  Actually most of us knew this already, although it is not easy to spot just by looking at him; for example he doesn’t carry a pocketful of washers and I have never seen him with a U-bend in his hand.  Also this morning, at home, he broke a whole freezer and a cylinder head gasket, so what kind of plumber is that?

We have already made all the obvious jokes about dealing with cranky old geysers.  But today someone offers a new observation, in which the downstream product of a plumbing system become a metaphor for the output from Council meetings.  This makes everyone in the room laugh.  It is always a good thing if you can turn a serious meeting (which it was) into a bit of a laugh (which it is now), because while people are laughing you can get them to agree to practically anything (which they do).  It is only afterwards that you realise that you also agreed to practically everything.  But you don’t mind because the thought of it sets you off laughing again. 

This is How to do Business, VeePee-style.  I have no idea what I have agreed to on CIPA’s behalf but I have been enjoying myself immensely. 

Induction day plans

23 October 2014, 2 pm

A group of us are plotting to make the student induction day more entertaining.  Last time we noticed that an afternoon nap had slipped onto the agenda following the buffet lunch.  This nap just happened to coincide with my talk on communication skills.  I used to think it was a good talk, until the time someone put in their feedback comments that they “found it difficult to understand”.  This, combined with its obviously soporific qualities, has led me to conclude that the talk must go. 

We are going to replace it with a game of extreme musical chairs and one of pin-the-tail-on-the-charter (pin-the-tail-on-The-Queen was voted out).  Then we are going to split people into smaller groups, so that they cannot hide even if they want to have an afternoon nap, and talk to them VERY LOUDLY about what CIPA and ITMA can do for them.  We have not yet decided which parts of the membership package to discuss, but free beer is sure to feature.

I think all trainees should go to the induction day.  It may be the most exciting IP-related thing that happens to them all year.  Apart from the Informals cocktail parties and pub crawls, obviously, which I notice have been springing up all over the place since our meeting on the pavements of Chancery Lane.  Clearly we pledged them way too much financial support.

But at Informals parties they do not have lectures on professional ethics and client care and complaints handling; or on how to make a profit in this impoverished, cut-throat profession of ours; or on IP being a business tool instead of just something for barristers to write text books about.  So they will not know what to do when their client asks them to patent his competitor’s trade mark on the quiet or complains that they have been insufficiently affectionate, as evidenced by the size of their latest invoice.  And they may not remember to ask him how stealing his competitors’ trade marks fits into his business plan, exactly.

More to the point, I bet they don’t play pin-the-tail-on-the-charter at Informals events.  That alone should be enough to bring students flooding in to CIPA Hall on the 1st and the 8th of December.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Exams and stuff

23 October 2014, 11.30 am

I meet with the Chairman of the PEB Governance Board.  We put the world to rights.  This is most satisfying.  (For us.  Probably not for the rest of the world.)

The Chairman used to work in school-level education, so we talk about how things have changed since we were young.  Not that I can remember being young properly but there is evidence to suggest it did happen once.  We talk about whether A-levels and those funny things that replaced O-levels have been dumbed down at all, but I think they can’t have been because these days people are so good they get stars as well as A grades, and in my day we never did well enough to get stars.

We also ponder over how difficult it must be to write a five-hour exam using a blotchy pen and paper when you are used to downloading text just by swiping your finger across a screen.  We decide this might be putting people off joining the patent profession.  I say it is not the only thing putting them off.  But it might be one of them.

The nice Chairman says he would like to gather feedback from the candidates and their trainers, about how well the exams have gone in the PEB’s first year.  I think perhaps he has misunderstood the exams a bit.  They are not there to give customer satisfaction; they are there to cause pain and misery and to separate those who can be strong and British about pain and misery from those who go all soppy.  What is he going to ask people, I wonder?  “How would you rate your examination experience, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is orgasmic and 10 is the worst few hours of your life?”  Or perhaps: “Would you recommend these exams to a friend?”  Hmm.  I think not.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

A proud moment

23 October 2014, 11 am

This must be the pinnacle of my career!  I am at CIPA, signing letters as VeePee.  Proper letters, on proper CIPA headed notepaper.  With my very own signature.  Which is a bit blotchy because my pen has been on a lot of long train journeys and it wasn’t that good before the train journeys started, in fact I think I nicked it from a conference in 2009 and I would have been better off nicking the boiled sweets.

I remember a time when I would not have been allowed anywhere near the CIPA headed notepaper.  It would have been whisked away for fear of me misusing it in some way – a not unfounded fear, I have to admit.  But today they have no choice.  Today we have to invite a load of important people to come to a meeting about diversity.  So today it is mine, all mine, and I feel very proud and important, and it is all I can do to stop myself asking Mr Lampert to take a photo of me doing the blotchy signatures so that I can show my mum.

Only Mr Lampert is busy.  Reading emails.  Mainly from me.

Friday, 24 October 2014

A blueprint for Council meetings

21 October 2014

I am frantically preparing for the 5 November Council meeting.  Normally I leave Council meetings to other people to get frantic about, but this time there is a risk that the President might be away and therefore that I might actually have to chair the meeting.  Clearly this is terrifying.  I can be scary, sure, but I am no match for 24 grumpy Council members and true.
I decide the best way to prepare is to have all the papers ready well in advance and an agenda that is timed to the last 30 seconds (Mr Davies is working on this; he is good at misdirected optimism).  I have this mad vision of a Council that reads all said papers beforehand so that at the meeting, all it needs to do is cast a final vote on several carefully-drafted proposals.  So my ideal Council meeting would go something like this:
Me (in the Chair da-da-da-DA!): Shut up and listen everyone.
Rest of Council: rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb.
Me: No really, shut up, or I shall start Morris dancing.
[Immediate silence.]
Me: Agenda item 1.
Council member 1: Madame Chairgentlewoman, could we just clarify what-
Me:  No.  Just vote.  It’s not rocket science.  Yes or no?
[Reluctant show of hands.  Mr Davies writes something unintelligible in the minutes, which he will later come to regret.]
Me:  Agenda item 2.
Council member 2: May I just say, with all due respect, that this proposal is complete BALDERDASH.
Me: Yes, Mr Boff, you may.
Council member 2: This proposal is complete BALDERDASH.
Me: With all due respect?
Council member 2: Yes, with all due respect.  But in the circumstances, it appears there is very little respect due.
Me: Fair point.  Now vote.  Yes or no?
[Reluctant show of hands.  Much grumbling.  Mr Davies’s pen runs out.  I take the opportunity to steal another biscuit.]
Me: Agenda item 3.
Council member 3: This item should really have been considered before agenda item 2.
Me: Absolutely.  Never mind.  Yes or no?
Council member 4: I haven’t read the papers on this yet.  What is it about?
Me: Don’t care.  Yes or no?
[Collars begin to steam.  Mr Davies takes the steam as an indication of consent and records a unanimous “yes” vote.]
Me: Agenda item 4.
Council member 5: Ah, this one.  Personally I think we should have a long and convoluted discussion about this and be rude to one another in the process.
Council member 6: And I would like to say something at a complete tangent to the issue under discussion.
Council member 7: And I would like to tell that story again about my first trainee in 1937.
Council member 8: And I am spoiling for a fight.
Rest of Council: Hear, hear!
Me: Overruled!
Council member 9: This is outrageous!  The Vice-President is a ruthless dictator! I propose a vote of no confidence!
Me: Yay!  Vote away.  Yes or no?
Rest of Council: Yes!  Down with the ruthless Vice-President!
Me: Result!
Council member 10: What happens now?
Council member 11: We must check the Bye-Laws.
Council member 12: Has anyone seen the Bye-Laws?
Council member 13: Mr Davies had them last.
[Everyone looks at Mr Davies.  Mr Davies looks at his shoes.  His pen runs out again.]
Council member 14: But do we mean the current Bye-Laws or the about-to-be-rewritten Bye-Laws with the new improved provisions on getting things done quicker?
Mr Davies: The about-to-be-rewritten Bye-Laws are still with the Under-50s Club being rewritten but not very quickly.
Council member 2: Tosh!  It is all utter tosh!
Council member 15: What is?
Council member 2: Everything is.  Tosh and balderdash and-…  Why is the Vice-President leaving??
Me: Ladies, Gentlemen, I’m off to happy hour.  Anyone coming with me?
[All except Mr Davies scrape back chairs, gather up laptops and leave.]
Mr Davies [weeping]: But what about the OGM…?
You see, it is important to get through all the business quickly, because we have a happy hour scheduled for after the meeting.  And in between the meeting and the happy hour, there is an Ordinary General Meeting to vote in lots of new members.  We have a backlog of bright young students waiting at the front door because we have not held enough OGMs recently to vote them in.  And we have not held enough OGMs recently because, well, to be frank, OGMs are extremely tedious and no one ever wants to come to them.
Anyway, I am blowed if either the Council meeting or the Ordinary Generally Tedious Meeting is going to encroach on happy hour.  So a ruthless dictatorship it will be.

How to spend a weekend

19 October 2014, 11.30 am

Today, I tell myself, I am not going to do anything CIPA-related.  Today is a Sunday and on a Sunday, everyone except Sad People and Family People does exciting things, and Family People do things with their families. 

But I get involved with some domestic chore or other related to putting food on the table.  And as everyone knows I am easily distracted from domestic chores, and before I know it I am firing off emails again and the domestic chore is stuck to the inside of the oven.

I have something of a reputation at CIPA for sending too many emails.  In fact, it is beginning to look bad that I don't include an “unsubscribe” option in my signature.  Mr Lampert is planning to mark me as spam just so he can get a day’s work done now and then.

I cannot help it though.  I just keep getting these ideas.  And unfortunately they come through unfiltered, without labels to say “Possibly feasible but not this decade”, “This one is a bit naff” or “Are you mad?”.  So I have to send them to my friends at CIPA for what is generally referred to as a sanity check but which in my case is obviously some way past that point. 

Usually people ignore my messages and carry on politely emailing around me, rather than telling me what they really think.  But every now and then someone says "OK then", just for a laugh, or perhaps for a dare, and then I end up running a task force or organising a meeting or going On Tour.  And this is basically why CIPA will never end up ruling the world.

Actually, the reason they agreed to the On Tour idea was because they thought it would keep me out of their hair for a bit.  My family were similarly supportive of the idea of me not being around for long periods, and were in fact most dismayed to find me back this weekend sticking domestic chores to the sides of their kitchen appliances.  They cannot wait till it is gin and tonic time.


19 October 2014, 3 pm

It is gin and tonic time.  (It comes earlier in the autumn, so my family tell me.)  Everyone is safe from the emails.  The domestic chores have been cleaned up.  I am sitting quietly with my tonicky thing, trying to remember why it is Sunday and what happened to that idea I had the other day.  I presume Mr Lampert is dealing with it.  He is nice like that, Mr Lampert.  I must email him to say thank you.


20 October 2014

Monday.  Back to work.  I send 327½ emails on CIPA-related business.  The ½ was to the EyePeePee, who only reads the first few lines anyway unless the email is about steam engines.  Overall, a jolly productive day, I think.

Mr Davies sends me an article about trolls.  Hmm.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Stately visits, queue-jumping & parties

17 October 2014

I visit three more firms in Cardiff.  It is excellent fun.  Everybody is really nice to me and I feel a bit like The Queen except obviously not so regal and obviously the people I am visiting are not peasants and paupers and so do not feel the need to curtsey or present me with bouquets or show me their children’s artwork.  Nor does The Queen carry a rucksack full of straw usually.  And nobody asks me to cut the tape to declare their new stationery cupboard open, although for the record I would be happy to do this if anyone felt it appropriate on a future visit.

I have a special notebook in which I write down the things people tell me.  Mostly they are good things, or at least not bad things.  I get the distinct impression that for many people, belonging to CIPA is like queueing: it is just something you do.  You do it because everyone else does, and because you always have done, and because life is simpler that way.  Even if the queue is not a very good queue.  Even if you cannot see the end of it and may even have forgotten why you are standing there. 

(I once read that you can jump a queue any time you want, so long as you give your fellow queuers a reason.  Interestingly – according to some highly empirical research data – the reason does not need to be plausible.  You can say you need to jump the queue because your hamster is late for his driving test, and people will stand aside to let you through.  You can even say you need to jump the queue so as to get to the front quicker; they will still defer to you.  It is only Barging Without Due Explanation that is a crime.  God bless the British.)

What also emerges from my stately visits is that people in Cardiff think that CIPA is basically for Londoners, and that occasionally the Londoners send over some dosh and some name badges and a personage or two and allow the Welsh folk to have a little party.  They are wonderfully grateful for this little party.  And to be honest, having seen what the streets of Cardiff are like on a Thursday night, I can understand that.  (Throbbing, they were: it was most undignified.)

The Welsh CIPA members would like more chances to party with their fellow patent attorneys, they say, because then they can talk to one another about joint training initiatives and joint drinking initiatives.  We are back to the free beer again.  Sigh.

An afternoon of excluded subject matter

16 October 2014, 4 pm

Still in Cardiff.  Couldn’t find the way home.

We are back at a posh hotel for an afternoon of CPD.  In another part of the hotel, an event is being held by my favourite energy drink producers.  I resist the urge to join them instead, because it would probably be a very macho event and I have had too much of the military manoeuvres today, what with orienteering my way around Cardiff with the EyePeePee and Mr Davies.  Also I am not sure how broadly CPD is defined, but I suspect it should not be confused with feeding a fizzy drink addiction.

One of the intended CPD speakers has had to cancel at short notice.  He is probably somewhere down the tow path but no one feels compelled to go and find him.  In his place, a kind man from the IPO steps in to tell us about patent protection for excluded subject matter, which is easy enough because there is none.  (And even I know that.)  He talks about computer-implemented inventions.  This goes largely over my head because my clients do not do computer-implemented inventions, much less computer-implemented inventions which are actually dressed-up business methods.  If my clients invented a business method they would be more likely to pull it along behind a tractor than run it on a computer.

So I zone out and check Twitter® instead.  I used to think it was rude to read your smartphone during a lecture, but now I realise that if you don’t read your smartphone during a lecture, everyone thinks you are a Sad Person with no friends and no followers and no appointments to go to.  So as VeePee I am obviously obliged to demonstrate how many friends and followers and appointments I have.

Actually what I find on Twitter is that someone has misread my latest blog.  Instead of “spanking new rules” they read “new spanking rules”.  And they are a little bit concerned.  I’ll bet Mr Boff is concerned too.  I should stress that CIPA has no intention of introducing a rule about spanking, and anyone who wants us to should declare their interest immediately to the Constitutional Committee, which will respond with appropriate disciplinary measures.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Lost in Cardiff

16 October 2014, 10.30 am

The EyePeePee, Mr Davies and I are going to meet some patent attorneys in Cardiff.  It is gig number two of our Grand Tour.  We decide we will walk from where we are now to where we need to be because the map makes it look very easy.  It turns out to be a stupid map and because of the stupid map we get a little bit hideously lost.  The long straight pink thing on the stupid map is actually a long straight flyover which has an air about it of not being adapted for pedestrians.

At last we find a tourist information map.  Yay!  Our joy is short-lived, however, because the You Are Here arrow is in the top left corner.  Which, forgive my bluntness, means that this is basically a map of somewhere-you-are-on-the-edge-of.  The somewhere-we-want-to-be is not on the map at all.

In emergency situations like this, it is important for the team to function effectively.  But none of us is prepared to be Project Manager because of what happens on The Apprentice.  So we divide the work thus: the EyePeePee finds our destination on Google® Maps and leads us off down a tow path into someone’s back garden.  I phone the patent attorneys we are supposed to be visiting and apologise for being on a tow path and not in their meeting room.  And Mr Davies deals with sending tweets.  To make sure that everyone knows that CIPA’s EyePeePee and VeePee cannot even lead an expedition to Cardiff Bay let alone a Chartered Institute.

Our hosts are very understanding.  When we arrive, they offer us Welsh cakes and 60 different varieties of tea, not one of which is normal enough for Mr Davies.  He is an ex-plumber and plumbers are not used to having breakfast tea with essence of lychee, any more than they would want quinoa with their eggs.

We ask our hosts what they think of CIPA.  They say CIPA is alright; would you like another Welsh cake?  We say but what about the webinars, and the Journal, and Congress, and Mr Lampert’s wizzy e-newsletter with the light bulbs at the top?  They say, yeah, these things are alright too; do have another Welsh cake. 

The Welsh cakes are more than alright; they are perfect after our route march through Cardiff this morning.  Mr Davies is alright too, despite having to drink tea with essence of alpine buttercups: he has found someone to talk to about dartboards.  Patented dartboards, no less.  Everyone is happy.

So what is the cost of regulation?

15 October 2014, 1 pm

The Legal Services Board has launched a survey on the cost of legal services regulation, and it would like us all to take part. 

You’d have thought, wouldn’t you, that since the LSB is in charge of regulation, it would already know how much it costs without asking us?  But there you are: just one more thing to add to the pile of Things I Don’t Understand and Probably Have No Right To, which is a subset of the pile of Things I’m Not Going to Lose Any Sleep Over.

So what is the cost of regulation?  Well, it is the IPReg practising fee multiplied by the number of attorneys and entities that pay it.  Plus gazillions of pounds’ worth of chargeable attorney time spent drafting business terms and client care letters, working out what a complaints handling procedure should look like and whether the anti-money laundering regulations apply to them, and trying to persuade their bank managers to open client accounts when the bank managers’ Official Lists from Head Office say absolutely categorically no client accounts for numpties who are not lawyers.  Minus the cost of the things we no longer have to do now we are regulated, which is, well, which is negligible really.

(I would like to put it on record that my own firm has had no problem at all with preparing an Anti-Money Laundering Policy, an Anti-Bribery Policy, a Complaints Handling Policy, a We Love Diversity Policy, a Whistle-Blowing Policy, an Anti-Bullying Policy, a Cider at Work Policy, a Tractor Parking Policy and a Working on a Friday Policy.  Most of them can be summed up as “Don’t even think about it.”  We do not have a client care letter because I think that is a ridiculous notion.  The clients don’t care about us so I don’t see why we should care about them.)

It strikes me, however, that we should be careful how we respond to the LSB’s survey.  It would be tempting to say that regulation costs way too much.  But what if the LSB then says OK let’s reduce the cost by abolishing IPReg and let everyone be regulated by the SRA instead?  Surely there are economies of scale in this model, it might say.  And I do not think this is quite the outcome we had in mind.

It is depressing to hear that “deregulation” is now one of the LSB’s priorities.  Can you envisage a better way of keeping unemployment down and psychosis rates up than by tasking people with building a completely new system and then unbuilding it again afterwards like Lego®?  Especially if you make them issue umpteen consultation papers at each stage?  Was this just a magnificent government experiment into what happens when you try to interfere with the natural course of capitalism?

If nothing else, it has taught me that my firm should also have a Consultation Response Policy.  And it too should say, pretty much, “Don’t even think about it.”

Monday, 20 October 2014

I am a trend-setter!

15 October 2014, 12 noon

I receive an email from an events company that has long been misinterpreting my “unsubscribe” messages as an attempt to be friendly.  This email tells me about exciting venues in London and wonderful ways to brighten up your office Christmas party if your staff have become so apathetic that a cracker and a balloon no longer provoke a response.

This email says – and I kid you not – that “business meetings over afternoon tea are officially a thing.”  Wow!  I am a Trend-Setter!

I am now looking forward to hearing that pulling straw from a briefcase is the way to win a business pitch.  Although judging by The Apprentice last night, actually the way to win business is to slap on hodfuls of makeup and lurch about in six-inch heels.  That is, if you’re a girl.  I do not know what you are supposed to do if you’re a bloke.  Just turn up, I guess.

The Afternoon Tea Society

14 October 2014, 2 pm

There is an inaugural meeting of the Patent Attorneyettes’ Afternoon Tea Society.  There are only two of us there, but that’s OK because we are the Founding Members.  We eat dainty scones with jam and cream, left behind from the lunch-time meeting.  It is a well-known fact that dainty scones have proportionately fewer calories than thumping great scones, and so we feel justified in eating thumping great quantities of the dainty scones.

On the way home, the fuel consumption readout on my dashboard suggests that maybe there was a little more ballast in the dainty scones than I had suspected.  But the PAATS is up and running, and that is what matters.  Or perhaps not "running", exactly – not with that much ballast on board.

We are recruiting new members, so do get in touch.  You can be a student, an associate or a fellow.  To be a fellow you have to be able to eat a clotted cream tea, two toasted teacakes, three caramel custard tarts and a thumping great chocolate fudge cake sandwich with cream.  In one dainty sitting.  We have gold standards to maintain, after all, and we cannot have the Germans getting ahead just because they can make Apfelstrudel.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Positive feedback (and no free beer)

14 October 2014, 12 noon

The Grand Tour has begun.  (No thanks to the M4.)  Mr Davies and I are meeting with a group of in-house patent managers and asking them what they think of CIPA.  We are quite encouraged.  They are proud to be CIPA members.  And they want CIPA to maintain the gold standard of patent attorneyism for which we are known and loved throughout the world, except of course in Germany where they are cross about it.

The patent managers say we should teach all UK attorneys to be commercially astute, so that we can get one up on the Germans.  Someone suggests a mini MBA course.  I think perhaps we should start with a Ladybird® book and see how we get on.

We are excited to hear that these people actually like the CIPA Journal.  Although it appears they would rather it were available as a controlled release implant, to save them time.

They also like the CPD webinars.  They like regional meetings.  They like the patent administrators’ course, and would like an advanced one too.  They like getting updates on law changes and policy consultations and other IP-related stuff, though sadly, Mr Lampert’s wizzy e-newsletter seems not to be getting through the spam filters.  I must tell him to stop using SILC in the heading, because half the spam filters will think he is a Nigerian prince who cannot spell and half of them will think he is offering kinky underwear: this means that the only people receiving the newsletter will be those without spam filters, and they are likely to be too busy reading about Nigerian princesses in negligées.

The great thing is that in 90 minutes or so of chatting, there is not one mention of free beer.  I have to say I am mightily relieved.  I was not looking forward to putting a proposal to Council about that.

I am going to un-favourite the M4

14 October 2014, 11 am

I do not like the M4 anymore.  It does not lead to Oxford or Cardiff or Derby or Edinburgh: it leads to a large traffic jam in the shape of a roundabout.  In order to avoid the emphatically non-gyrating gyratory, I am obliged to take a back route along squiggly roads which have a lot of different numbers.  I think it is bad, in this day and age, that roads have to have so many different numbers.  A person could get confused. 

It does not help that I am too embarrassed to use the satnav because last time I swore at it.  I may also have thrown a Red Bull® can at it, after which it kept telling me to bear right then take the ferry.  

To be clear: there are no ferries near where I live.  You have to be seriously lost to have found a ferry on your way to Cheddar.

Goodbye Super Sarah!

10 October 2014, 4 pm

It is Super Sarah’s last day at CIPA.  Super Sarah’s official job title is Mr Davies’s PA, but in reality she is Mr Davies’s brain.  And when Mr Davies is not using his, she is my brain too.  Sarah knows who everyone is and where they are supposed to be RIGHT NOW.  If they are not where they’re supposed to be, she can arrange for them to be teleported, just as she can arrange hotels and taxis and conference calls and for extremely cogent and intelligent-sounding letters to be sent out in the Officers’ names without us even realising we’ve done it.  We are going to miss her.

Mr Davies gives Super Sarah a hat as a leaving present.  It is a rather fabulous hat and I am very jealous.  I wonder whether I should leave too, so that I can have one.  Mr Davies intimates that this is not how things are likely to pan out. 

Super Sarah’s replacement is called Gary.  Gary looks relaxed and cheerful.  It is almost as though Mr Davies has not yet explained his job description to him.  But surely that cannot be.

I will send him a hat catalogue.  It does no harm to be prepared.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

UPC update

10 October 2014

At a meeting this morning, I accidentally pick up some interesting snippets about the UPC.  First, the new judges are going to be trained before they start work.  This is reassuring.  Second, the training is going to include an introduction to patents and why they have claims.  This is less reassuring.  Third, in addition to basic patent law, there will also be training in a set of more generic skills referred to as “Judgecraft”.  This is downright scary, especially so close to Halloween.

I also learn that the estate agents have been called in to find homes for the new courts.  In the UK, we are looking at two potential sites.  One is in the centre of London: it is too old and too small but it has the advantage of being five minutes’ walk from the English judges’ usual places of work, ie just about close enough for them to believe in it.  The other is opposite City Airport and has the advantage of being big and new and next door to a Travelodge®, the obvious downside (apart from being next door to a Travelodge®) being that the English judges either won’t be able to find it or won’t believe it’s there at all. 

We may additionally have a court in Scotland, but only when we need one, so it will be a kind of pop-up court.  This has the advantage that it can be established and dis-established without the English judges knowing a thing about it.

The French can’t decide where to position their Central Division, either.  Mais non.  So there is a lot of shrugging going on in France at the moment.  Every now and then they take a break from the shrugging to hold a strike, and then they get back to looking at the Versailles Palace plans and wondering if they could fit a petit court dans un petit corner ici, non?  Avec un cellar pour les days quand nous sommes en strike?  Il y a un Campanile® next door pour les peasants et les patentees.

Finally, I learn that the UK government is still happily but naively convinced it can get the entire IT system for the court up and running before the end of 2015.  Apart from the link to France, of course, which may be un petit bit delayed.  These are exciting times dans le world d’IP, non?

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Out with the old Bye-Laws!

10 October 2014, 2 pm

We are going to rewrite the Bye-Laws!  From scratch!  This is so exciting that I have to leave the room to find more biscuits half-way through the Constitutional Committee’s meeting.

What is even more exciting is that we are going to ask ordinary CIPA members to come on board and help with the rewrite.  We think young people – perhaps 50 and under – might be especially good at this.  And it is important that they have a say in the new regime, because it is they who will have to live with it and we do not want them to blame us when, in 2025, everyone is attending meetings through the medium of web-mapped biomolecular transference and the 2015 Bye-Laws only allow for fusty old online voting.

So, if you think you might be able to help build a spanking new CIPA with spanking new Rules of Membership, now is the time to contact the Constitutional Committee.  I will also ask my friends at the Informals, but they may not have forgiven me yet for the shivery standy-uppy meeting in Chancery Lane yesterday.

The new Bye-Laws are going to be much simpler than the current ones.  Let’s face it, the current ones make it impossible to do anything much in CIPA apart from reading out the minutes of the last meeting, at which you also did nothing.  To give you a flavour, this is the kind of tone we are aiming for in the new set:

Meetings.  We will hold meetings if we need to.  We will hold them wherever and whenever we want, and they will not be posh.  In the absence of unforeseen fire alarms, we would rather they were held under cover please and included places for people to sit down.  We will only be unquorate if we run out of biscuits or if there are not enough of us to shout Mr Boff down.

Voting.  If we do anything important we will ask our members first.  Members will be allowed to cast their votes any way they choose, including on Twitter®, on papyrus and with their feet.  Straw polls will not be encouraged, however, because there is too much straw in this Institute already.

Classes of membership.  There will be lots of classes of membership so that everyone can find a niche, however eccentric, and also so as to improve our diversity figures.  New classes will include Accidental Member, Reluctant Member, Innocent Member and Asymptomatic Member.

Applications for membership.  If you want to be a member, send us your name and address and some dosh.  We will publish your name on a list and give people a chance to object but we really hope they don’t because it creates so much faff. 

Officers.  We will elect ourselves a President and a Vice-President to be erudite and authoritative on our behalf.  Every now and then, if we feel like it, we will elect ourselves a comedy Vice-President who is neither erudite nor authoritative but is high on entertainment value.  Our Head of Media & PR will sort out any resultant publicity problems.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Teeth, tickets & fire alarms

9 October 2014

It is one of those days.  First, I arrive at my dentist’s to find that my dentist has run away.  Then, his replacement turns a twenty-minute appointment into a sixty-minute archaeological dig.  At the end she announces proudly that she has located the nerve.  I kind of knew this already. 

She says she is going to put some hydrogen peroxide on my tooth to stop the bacteria.  I ask if she would like to revise her guess in light of the fact that I am a chemist.  She says perhaps it might be calcium hydroxide after all.  I can live with that.

Then she tells me I need to start using a special hyper-expensive toothpaste.  Excuse me?  What is the point spending sixty minutes in the dentist’s chair if you still have to clean your teeth afterwards? 

But perhaps it is the Red Bull® stains which are causing her concern.

I drive to the station.  There, I fall out with the car park ticket machine.  This machine has an unhelpfully large number of buttons, not to mention an entire qwerty keyboard, but all of the buttons have the effect of increasing the number of days I would like to park for (except the button that is supposed to have this effect, which is actually just a yellow sticker and not a button at all).  By the time I have reached 21 days, 19 of them due to the big red button labelled CANCEL, I decide it is time to remove my credit card and run.

So I run.  And then my train is cancelled anyway.  Possibly due to the big red button.  And things do not improve when I get to London.  I fall over on an escalator.  Inelegantly.  It rains as I walk to my hotel (only on me, you understand: everywhere else is sunny).  At the hotel entrance, the automatic door turns into an automatic wall and refuses to let me in. 

The last straw is when I get to CIPA for a meeting with the Informals.  We are all set to discuss how the Informals and the Formals (ie the Sober-Suited Ones) can work more closely together.  We have our papers out.  We have done all the hellos and how-are-yous and who-are-you-sorry-I’ve-forgottens.  And I have just started speaking when the fire alarm goes off.

In theory, I know this is caused by the electrical contractors lurking in the basement, who have taken “rewiring” to a whole new level on more than one occasion in the past.  But it is hard not to get paranoid when everything you come into contact with goes wrong.

We file out of 95 Chancery Lane and continue our meeting al fresco.  It is amazing how quickly you can get through an agenda when you are standing up and shivering and have no papers to remind you what you’re supposed to be talking about.  We must try this at Council.  Anyway, I think the Informals are pleased with the result.  We have offered them financial support but organisational autonomy, the perfect blend of the formal and the informal, the constitutional equivalent of “smart casual”.  But since no one has been able to take any notes, we may never know who’s agreed to what.

Monday, 13 October 2014

We need some approximately interesting IP stories!

8 October 2014

The Media & Public Relations Committee (aka the Shouty Things Committee) wants to hear from CIPA members who have interesting IP-related stories to tell.  Stories which would attract journalists and excite the national press, if not into a frenzy then at least into a state of approximate interest.

For the avoidance of doubt, the following are unlikely to excite the national press:

  • Winning an argument with the EPO about an Article 54(3) citation.
  • Discovering a fascinating new etymological fact.
  • Outrage at the inappropriate use of a semi-colon.
  • The IPO re-numbering one of its standard letters.
  • The results of your office survey on paper clips.
  • A client thinking he’s invented a perpetual motion machine when he hasn’t (unless of course he gets it onto Dragons’ Den).

What we need is stories of companies who have done excellently well thanks to their excellently good IP attorneys.  We need clients who are prepared to attest in public to the excellent goodness of their IP attorneys and their undying faith in the patent system.  We need tales of blockbuster patents and multiple-claim-drafting heroes and IP derring-do, of knights in clear, concise and shining armour slaying patent trolls and waving presumptions of validity from the parapets, who rescue damsels from the perils of further processing and preferably also the UK economy from decline.

Then we will publish these stories in the Financial Times and The Economist and Sad People's Weekly.
I am sure there must be hundreds of suitable tales languishing in CIPA members' files.  If you know of any, please contact our Chief Shouty Person Mr Lampert forthwith.

Shouty things

8 October 2014

So anyway, today there is a meeting of the Press & PR Committee.  Which instantly re-brands itself as the Media & PR Committee.  This is a momentous decision.  “Media” is so much wider than “press”.  In fact, it is so wide that – call me a pedantic old patent attorney – it is actually redundant.  We may as well have a “PR and Things You Can Use for PR” Committee, which would be the first ever genuine means-plus-function committee.  Or how about the slightly more descriptive “Shouty Things” Committee?

Just saying.

There is much to discuss on the Shouty Things Committee.  The main one is how do we make sure that CIPA is the go-to authority on IP issues?  It seems the media people do not have a great track record when it comes to finding the right spokesperson on IP.  Sometimes they just call up some random matrimonial law solicitor, sometimes an internet service provider.  Occasionally they get as far as CIPA, but arrive in such a confused state that they have to be gently re-orientated before we can help them.  I am told that one journalist recently assumed that his query on the dragonfly computer virus would be passed to our Life Sciences Committee.  Because a dragonfly and a virus are both living things, obviously.  This story is testament to the high quality of investigative journalism in the UK.  At least the person concerned knew we had a Life Sciences Committee; there are many CIPA members who do not.

We also talk about CIPA tat, I mean memorabilia.  Apparently we have been handing out CIPA mugs.  I have not been offered a CIPA mug.  I am a bit miffed about this.  What is the point being VeePee if you do not even get your own CIPA mug?  Mind you, it is a little worrying to see standards slipping towards the working-class end of the spectrum.  In the good old days it would have been a tankard, not a mug.  Before you know it we will be offering a CIPA pie plate.

Next we talk about the “Inside Careers” guide, and opportunities for work experience, and other ways in which to lure unfortunate misguided graduates into the IP profession.  Our key message here is going to be: “Come in, come in!  Everyone is welcome!  Especially the Mega-Beings, although obviously not exclusively the Mega-Beings because that would be bad for diversity.  Come in and we will give you a CIPA pie plate and a free pie!  Venison or wood-pigeon?”

They will be queueing at the gates.

During the meeting the Shouty People are introduced to Mr Lampert, who is now Chief Shouty Person for CIPA and responsible for our PR.  He tells us he used to work for the Probation Service, and before that the Criminal Justice System.  So he knows all about trying to put a positive spin on things which are inherently unpalatable.

Mr Lampert announces that soon we are going to have our very own Communications Strategy.  Also a Stakeholder Engagement Strategy.  Well that’s nice.  The more CIPA tat the better.  I would rather have a communications strategy than a pie plate, any day. 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Grand plans

7 October 2014

I begin planning my Grand Tour in earnest.  So far I have had invitations to Cardiff, Edinburgh, London, Oxford, Derby and Munich.  These are all from people who took pity on me and decided that having me round for an hour or so and offering me a caramel custard tart would be a small price to pay for me LEAVING THEM ALONE for the rest of the year.

The Munich invitation is particularly attractive.  However, I am not sure the Internal Governance Committee, with its new expenses policy, is going to countenance a trip to the Christmas markets, even if it does yield a bit of feedback from CIPA members and even if I do promise to bring back a large Lebkuchen heart. 

The Committee holds a meeting this afternoon.  I don’t mention Munich.    

The next gigs are in Oxford and Cardiff.  Fortunately both these places are pretty much on the M4 although with Oxford you have to be a bit creative to make that happen and it is the type of creativity that the Highways Agency is not always comfortable with.  I think Derby and Edinburgh are on the M4 too, roughly.  I do not think Munich is on the M4. 

I spend the rest of the day, when I am not browsing through my 1998 Road Atlas of Great Britain (New Improved showing Speed Cameras & Little Chefs® & Other Things You Want to Avoid at All Costs), doing proper serious CIPA stuff.  I get some papers ready for the oral proceedings course.  I plan a meeting about diversity in the IP professions.  I arrange to make a speech at an IPO-run conference for business advisors.  I very nearly start writing the speech, but get side-tracked by a gin and tonic.  I know none of these things will look as exciting on YouTube® as a country bumpkin emptying straw out of her rucksack, but they may go some way to showing I am earning my keep.  Or at least that I am not just watching the washing machine go round any more.

Making an impact - with straw

6 October 2014

I am on the CIPA LinkedIn® discussion forum.  “You’re making an impact!” it crows excitedly.  I am?  Well, there’s a thing!  If I reach the Top Contributor level, it tells me, I will get a “group badge”.  Yay!  Presumably these badges are also available at £1 a pack from Tesco®.  Is there no end to the decorations I can acquire with the weekly groceries?

It appears I have been making an impact largely because of the straw I shed during my VeePee speech at Congress.  People have been asking when the performance will be viewable on YouTube®.  Worse, Mr Davies has been telling them it will be soon.  I am thinking: it is possible to be famous for the wrong reasons, and straw is probably one of them.  Right now I am not exactly shining through as the Institute’s most eminent and authoritative VeePee ever.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

SILC and free beer

4 October 2014

I meet with a large group of IP attorneys and spoil their evening meal by talking to them about CIPA.  In the circumstances, they are remarkably polite.

Some interesting feedback emerges.  They have no recollection of Mr Lampert’s buzzy new e-newsletter.  (I can only think their spam filters have consigned it to the same folder as the bulletins from the Nigerian prince.)  They have never heard of SILC.  They do not realise they missed Congress this week.  And they regard the CIPA Journal as an elaborate way of sending them a plastic bag once a month. 

They have no idea who I am or why I am here.  Although to be fair, often I don’t either.

It is hard to initiate a meaningful debate on the value of CIPA membership, because none of them knows what CIPA membership costs.  I ask them to guess.  They hardly get above the reserve price.  Then I ask what they would like CIPA to provide as part of the membership package.  There is a silence, then a stirring at the back of the room, and finally someone shouts: “Free beer!”

I fear this may be getting out of hand.  Exactly which part of SILC do they think stands for Free Beer??

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Empty nests & burnt granola

4 October 2014

My eldest daughter leaves for university.  I am supposed to suffer from empty nest syndrome.  But actually the nest is far from empty; it is still full of all the rubbish she was told to clear out a month ago.

She is hoping that the Tidying-Up Pixies will visit whilst she’s busy pretending to do a degree.  Personally I would rather it were the Environmental Health Pixies.  They will need industrial tools to deal with some of this mess.

I have been led to believe that Proper Mothers hold their children’s hands all the way to their first hall of residence, and make their beds for them and leave home-baked goodies and freshly-laundered clothes before waving a tearful goodbye.  The reality, in our family, is that I am off doing CIPA-related things on the day she leaves; that she will do her own laundry like she always does, or if she doesn’t then she will smell and make no friends; and that I know there is no point making the bed because she will only go and sleep in it and if the bed-linen has to last a whole term it is probably better left in its packaging.  I do however send her off with a tub of home-made slightly-burnt granola, which is just about all I know how to make. 

Anyway she will be staying within ten minutes’ walk of Paddington station.  She thinks this may be good because when I come to London on CIPA business I will be able to call in and take her out for dinner.  What she doesn’t know is that I will be calling in and asking to kip on her floor instead of in a cheapskate CIPA-sanctioned hotel with a pocket-sized bar of soap and a bedroom only just big enough to hold it.

I suspect Proper Mothers do not ask to kip on their daughters’ floors for the night.  And I confess to being a tad worried about what I will find there.  Slightly-burnt granola, for a start.

Monday, 6 October 2014

CIPA Congress 2014: the highlights

3 October 2014, 8 pm

I have noticed that proper bloggers write summaries of the conferences they go to.  So on the train home I attempt to distil the key messages from CIPA Congress 2014.  Here is the result.

Keynote speech by the IP Minister: IP is lovely; every business should have one.

Session 1: try to build yourself a portfolio of lovely IP before your employees build it for you and put it on Facebook®.

Session 2: IP portfolio management is all about risk management.

Session 3: some things are going to happen in trade mark law.  (I may have mis-remembered this.  I am not a trade mark expert.)

Keynote speech by an EPO Director: it’s OK; we are getting some more printers.  And some new Guidelines.

Session 4: prosecuting an IP portfolio is all about risk management.  Except in the US, where it is just about risk.

Session 5: EPO opposition hearings are all about damage limitation.  The best person to limit the damage for you is a barrister, who is properly trained to make damage look entertaining.

Keynote speech by a US attorney: USPTO post-grant review will kill your patents.  All of them.  Even the best-trained barrister may struggle to make this look entertaining. 

Session 6: IP litigation strategy is all about risk management.

Session 7: IP licensing is all about risk management.

Vice-President’s address: here is some straw.

Keynote speech by a senior Oxfam advisor: IP is not lovely.  IP is evil.

Response by GSK: oh no it isn’t.

Audience: boo!

Session 8: risk management is probably outside your budget.  It may also be outside the scope of your indemnity insurance.  Greece is a good place to set up a manufacturing node because of the baklava.  (I may have mis-remembered this bit too.)  The CJEU is not half as bad as you think, especially if you hire a barrister to make it seem more entertaining.

Session 9 (CIPA open meeting on SILC): CIPA is lovely and is going to do lots of lovely things for its members.  Also please can we come round for a coffee and a chat and do you happen to have any caramel custard tarts?

I hope my readers find this a useful summary.  But just in case I have missed anything important, the whole thing was being filmed.  The box-set should be available before Christmas.