This blog is a personal view of how it feels to be the Vice-President, and then the President, of CIPA. These are my own words, not CIPA’s: tongue-in-cheek, often irreverent, sometimes satirical. They are written for people with a sense of humour, a broad mind and a generous and forgiving spirit. And talking of spirits, they contain quite a lot of references to gin, which I like drinking. If you think you might find this type of writing disturbing, please do not read any further.
Thursday, 5 February 2015
Let me tell you a story...
5 February 2015 - a serious post
It feels like a no-brainer, doesn’t it?We’re the Chartered Institute of “Patent
Attorneys”.Our members are patent
attorneys.We represent patent
attorneys.We understand them.Chartered patent attorneys are the Best Thing
Ever in the IP world and we have staked our reputation on that.
So why would we want to open CIPA’s arms to other IP
practitioners?Why dilute the valuable
The question arises because we are rewriting our Bye-laws.We could go for a cosmetic touch-up, simply
to modernise voting procedures and the rules about meetings.But a new set of Bye-laws requires the
approval of the membership, not to mention the Privy Council, so while we’re
about it, should we not also take the opportunity to ask ourselves the bigger questions
about categories of membership, about who we let in and who we allow to help
shape the Institute’s future?Especially
at this time of expansion and change in the IP world – is it not time to look again
at our Institute’s role?
Patent attorneys are notoriously wary of change.I know there are many who abhor the
suggestion that CIPA might dilute its core of chartered patent attorneys with
other more lowly types of IP practitioner.And maybe their instincts are right.
But I’m concerned.I’m
concerned that we’re not thinking strategically enough.That, in typical patent attorney fashion, we’ve
not looked at the big picture.That we
haven’t considered the potential consequences of remaining small and elite.
So I’d like to tell you a story.Normally it’s Mr Davies who does the
story-telling round here, but I hope he won’t mind my borrowing his approach
just this once.
Once upon a time, some very clever people learned to make
stained glass windows.They were
beautiful stained glass windows and they were exquisitely crafted.People came from far and wide to see them,
and paid many hundreds of pounds to buy them.
The stained glass window makers were justifiably proud of
their skills.Together, they founded a
Chartered Institute of Stained Glass Window Makers.Only the very best stained glass window
makers could join this institute, and they had to pass rigorous tests to do
so.But their work was respected
world-wide.Their institute kept them
safe, and spoke out for them, and at the same time it made sure that they
maintained their enviable standards.
Over time, stained glass windows gained in popularity.Everybody wanted one.The Chartered Stained Glass Window Makers
could hardly keep up with demand.But
they refused to let standards slip; their windows remained as exquisite as
As the windows gained in popularity, interesting things began
to happen.Some other very clever people
learned how to instal the stained glass windows in interesting new ways.Others learned how to clean the stained glass
windows, still others how to repair them.Some became good at advising customers on the type of stained glass to
include in their buildings, others at creating new colours and designs for the
glass.A whole new industry grew up.
Now, the people who designed and installed and cleaned and
repaired and advised on the stained glass windows could not, for the most part,
make them.And the Chartered Stained
Glass Window Makers, well, beautiful as their windows were, most of them
weren’t able to instal or clean or repair.The truth was, a customer who owned a stained glass window, or who
wanted a new one, probably had to consult several different experts.
The Chartered Institute of Stained Glass Window Makers saw
its opportunity.It cared about the
stained glass window industry.It cared
about everything to do with stained glass windows.So it changed its name to the Chartered
Institute of Stained Glass Windows.A
tiny change, but significant.Because
then it could allow the stained glass window designers to become members, and
the installers, and the cleaners and repairers and advisers.Each of these groups had its own set of tests
to pass.All of them worked to
exquisitely high standards.They shared
their expertise.They learned from one
As the membership grew, the Chartered Institute became more
wealthy and more influential.If a
customer needed anything to do with a stained glass window, he knew who to
visit.If a businessman or a politician
or a journalist needed to know something about the stained glass window
industry, he knew who to ask.This was a
vibrant, active and forward-thinking community, quick to grasp opportunities
and respond to threats.But it hung on
to its core values; standards did not fall; its members were welcoming, but
they were still proud.
The industry boomed.There were stained glass windows everywhere.And at the hub of this industry, the
Chartered Institute also thrived, maintaining a reputation second to none;
speaking out for the industry; helping it to develop.Cowboys came and went, with their shoddy
second-rate windows and their shoddy second-rate window designs, but customers
knew they could rely on the Chartered Institute if they wanted a quality
Now let me tell you another story.
This story begins in the same way as the first, with the
very clever people who learned to make stained glass windows.It too sees the establishment of the
Chartered Institute of Stained Glass Window Makers.But in this story, when stained glass windows
gained in popularity, the Chartered Institute took a different line.
In this story, the Chartered Stained Glass Window Makers
guarded their skills jealously.They
sneered at the advisers and designers and installers, the cleaners and the
repairers, who could not themselves make stained glass windows to save their
lives.Fearful of being undermined, the Chartered
Stained Glass Window Makers issued a proclamation, explaining that only they could
make the exquisite stained glass windows the world deserved.
The world didn’t understand.Exquisite stained glass windows were no good on their own.So the world called in the advisers and
designers and installers, and it wasn’t long before the advisers and designers
and installers were learning to make the stained glass windows themselves.Some of them did quite a passable job, as it
turned out.Sadly, some of them did not
– and the Chartered Stained Glass Window Makers weren’t about to help them
learn.The industry gained a reputation
for being, well, unreliable to put it kindly.The advisers and designers and installers tried to set up their own
chartered institutes.So did the
cleaners and repairers.But somehow, it
didn’t quite work out.
Stained glass windows became less popular.The industry waned and the public lost
confidence.The Chartered Stained Glass
Window Makers continued to make exquisitely beautiful stained glass windows, to
impeccably high standards, but their customers were few and their influence small.They sat at the fringes of the construction
industry, quietly practising their craft and mumbling to one another about
There is a third story.Of course there is.It’s a
mixture of the first and the second.The
stained glass window industry thrives but the Chartered Institute of Stained
Glass Window Makers is not at the hub of it.The Chartered Stained Glass Window Makers sit on the side-lines,
respected but hardly influential: a small, elite group, highly skilled but a
little out of touch.Their customers are
wealthy but there aren’t many of them.People
have realised that they don’t need a gold-standard stained glass window, and
turned to cheaper alternatives which are still colourful, still pleasing on the
eye, still good enough, despite their minor flaws.Sometimes the master craftsmen complain at
their lot.They criticise the cheaper
alternatives.But they don’t get out
much, so no-one hears.
very different outcomes.Which one is
We’re IP attorneys.We know that sharing, licensing, collaborating, can turn a patented
invention into a platform technology.And
we know that if you want to play your patent for exclusivity, you’ve got to be
very, very sure you’re ahead of the competition.
CIPA is well placed in the IP landscape at the moment.Let’s think long and hard about how we want
to play it from here.And about the
consequences for the UK’s IP professionals, our businesses, our livelihoods.Are we niche artisans or bold entrepreneurs?Please, let’s not be so proud of ourselves
that we end up as the Betamax of the IP world.