As every business has at least some intellectual assets there is a huge potential market for high quality specialist advice and representation on intellectual property. Multinationals, research universities and other large institutions understand the value of their assets and know how to protect and exploit them. Smaller companies on the other hand have only a sketchy understanding of how intellectual property law works and most fail to use it to their advantage. Some are deterred by the high cost of patenting or Patents Court litigation and decide that intellectual property is not for them. Others invest in the wrong sort of protection and grow disillusioned after spending money on patents that no one wants to work, which they cannot afford to enforce or, in many cases, even renew.
In many respects the market for intellectual property advice and representation resembles the airline market before Ryanair and easyJet. There were large numbers of people of modest means itching to fly but inhibited by the high fares charged by the national flag carriers. Deregulation of the airline market, the use of airports such as Luton and Liverpool where takeoff and landing fees were lower than Heathrow and Manchester and the development of internet booking technologies that dispensed with the need for travel agents and city centre sales offices made it possible for low cost airlines to slash their fares. The result was a vast surge in demand for air travel which was met largely by the no-frills airlines.
There is a similar opportunity to bring high quality advice and representation within the reach of every company. The implementation of Part 5 of the Legal Services Act 2007 will deregulate the legal services market. Services like ICANN’s UDRP for domain name disputes and Intellectual Property Office examiners’ opinions on infringement and validity already provide cost-effective alternatives to High Court litigation. The fast track and small claims tracks for intellectual property proposed by Gowers and Jackson will offer still more. Cloud computing and comprehensive online legal resources that are accessible from laptops or even smart phones obviate the need for physical chambers.
Just as a new business model for air transport was required to exploit the surge in demand for air travel from the masses, so a new type of business model for the Bar will be needed to exploit the surge in demand from small businesses. As we have explained in our “Networks” page we believe that we have developed such a model in West Yorkshire which we intend to replicate elsewhere. This model is based on an assurance of quality. It was described by the patent attorney and blogger, Barbara Cookson, in her article “An Alternative Business Model based on Quality”:
“As business people know, the best advisers are those which come personally recommended by other clients. A recommendation from a peer comes without bias but a business peer may not know whether he has received the best possible device only other advisers know that. Jane is hoping to build a network that can leave Solo practitioners running their own practices but with a platform that enables them to work in teams to provide the services the client needs. This is a great idea because there are business consumers who need experience and are offered only inexperience when they approach big branded law firms because they are compelled to ask for the lowest possible fee. Judging by the company last night there are huge opportunities for businesses to achieve excellent value by using solo practitioners and other great value practices that Jane has sought out.”
We shall recruit barristers and other professionals who are keen to learn our method and help us set up and run networks similar to IP Yorkshire elsewhere. We shall train those recruits in our methods and franchise and support those networks. Our medium term aim is to establish an NIPC network in every region of the UK including Scotland and Northern Ireland and perhaps beyond in the next 5 years.
Everybody practising under the NIPC brands has to be committed to the NIPC Mission of providing high quality services to those who need them most but can often afford them least. They must also aspire to excellence in their advice, advocacy and drafting. They must have undergone rigorous training in intellectual property law and practice either with us, at university or in pupillage or practice. They must keep their knowledge up to date by CPD training with us or some other recognized provider. Their performance will be monitored constantly and mentoring will be offered whenever it falls short of excellent. Should a member let us down his or her licence to practise under the NIPC brands will not be renewed. On the other hand, every success will be celebrated and published in all our media. Every opportunity will be given to members to showcase their skills and knowledge in our blogs, websites, publications, conferences and seminars.
Through such method we aspire to becoming a powerful set in all aspects of intellectual property and technology law in this country and beyond. We hope to be worthy of instructions in the heaviest intellectual property work here and abroad but however strong we become we shall never depart from the mission of providing high quality services to those who need them most but can often afford them least.