Letter from IPReg: our industry faces double trouble

20th Jul 2020

As we emerge from lockdown, Lord Smith highlights a looming challenge.

Eu and virus

We are living through very strange times. COVID-19 and the accompanying lockdown have totally changed the way we all work and the shape of economic and social activity everywhere.

For the IPReg staff, it has meant working from home, with board meetings and discussions taking place online, but with a formidable quantity of work still to do. I can’t help thinking how fortunate we are to have put our new CRM system in place last year, which has meant that we have been able to cope well with the shift to a digital working environment. 

As I write this, it’s difficult to assess the broader impact of COVID-19 on the business of intellectual property protection. There’s still a lot of work on patents and trade marks going on, much of which was started before lockdown. But will the economic hiatus that has hit the country mean a subsequent dip in IP activity? I suspect that there may be a bit of an impact, but what’s much more important is the realisation that IP will be crucial to any economic recovery that we’re going to have. As we all try to lift the UK economy out of a COVID-19-induced recession, it’s IP that’s going to lead the way, especially as we come to terms with a world unlike the one we were all used to. And you can’t have cutting-edge IP work without recognising the importance of trade mark protection. 

There is, however, an additional lurking problem that we will have to face, and that (I’m afraid) is the prospect of Brexit happening for real at the end of December. At the moment, we are in a semi-Brexit state: we have left the EU, but we still have transitional arrangements in place which mean that very little has actually changed. That may all come to a juddering halt on 31st December. And while Patent Attorneys have a degree of protection (although there will be impacts), it will be Trade Mark Attorneys who will be especially affected. At the moment, there is a fundamental unfairness built into the negotiations that the UK Government is conducting. It seems to be conceding that EU-based attorneys should have rights of trade mark representation before the UK IPO, but UK-based attorneys should not have a reciprocal right before the EUIPO. This surely can’t be right. It should either be the case that both have reciprocal rights of representation or that neither do. I hope that CITMA’s campaign for more even-handedness in this will bear some fruit. It will be especially important for smaller-scale Trade Mark Attorney practitioners.  

It’s at times of challenge and difficulty that IP really comes into its own. And heaven knows we are in the midst of real challenge and difficulty on more than one front right now. It behoves all of us – practitioners, regulators, representatives and advocates – to make sure we come through this intact. IPReg will certainly be playing its part.   

The Rt Hon the Lord Smith of Finsbury
Chair of IPReg