Saturday, 8 November 2014

IP builders

30 October 2014

I deliver my speech to some business advisors that the IPO has kindly gathered together.  I tell them that the world of commerce is like a war-zone and that they must do IP triage for the businesses they meet, until the IP attorneys can get to the scene.  I am never short of a metaphor or two, me.

I do not stretch the metaphor far enough to liken their client businesses to the walking wounded, or, as is often the case by the time they reach us, simply the wounded.  I do not mention that some of these businesses could have done with a tourniquet first, to stem the flow of ideas out into the public domain, or with a warning to check the positions of enemy IP snipers before sticking their new brand names above the trenches.  I am not completely tactless. 

One business advisor tells me she thinks there is a problem with the language we use.  Her clients do not like the idea of IP “law”, she tells me, because law is a massive turn-off for people who are not lawyers.  As you can imagine.

And I think: yes!  That is the problem!  We must put an end to our fixation with the law!  There are laws about road use and vehicles and motorists, but we do not go to lawyers to learn to drive.  We do not buy our cars from lawyers and we do not take them to lawyers to be fixed.  IP is not law; there just happen to be laws about it. 

At the start of the process, I think, we are not lawyers at all.  We are scientists and engineers, who can understand our clients’ inventions and tell when they are trying to pull the wool over our eyes with gravity-defying apple pickers and statistically insignificant data (“Yes, but did you test it on anyone who wasn’t a member of your family and eight pints of cider more dilute than they should have been?”).  We are communicators, who can explain these inventions in a manner sufficiently verbose and complicated, and sufficiently short on punctuation, that barristers and judges can understand them.  And we are business strategists, who can keep the barristers and judges away from the IP for long enough for a business to make money out of it. 

We are not IP lawyers; we are IP builders.  We should roll up our sleeves, allow our trousers to sink to gravity-defying, anatomically-undesirable levels and arrive in hard hats, with dirty fingernails, three weeks after we promised to.  We should whistle a lot, and half-way through each claim set we should disappear for another three weeks on the pretext of collecting some statements of invention we didn’t bring with us the first time.  And then our clients would feel less intimidated.  And we might not have stopwatches and posh time-recording systems and invoices printed on parchment, but we could still charge whatever we wanted because people would just be abjectly grateful that we had come back to finish the claim set at all.

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