The future of IP offices, law firms & in-house counsel

18 November 2020

The future of IP offices, law firms & in-house counsel

In session “IP Practice of the Future: A View from Intellectual Property Offices, In-House and Law Firm Leaders” at the Annual Meeting, Ronald van Tuijl, who heads up the trademark & designs team at JT International in Geneva, says that in-house counsel must consider brand protection holistically. “Reputational risk is a decision driver nowadays and we must be ready to communicate risks. We must exhibit agile thinking and action and not work in isolation. We must collaborate across functions and become savvy in related issues. For example, we must understand the issues that may impede a launch and know that CSR and sustainability are inseparable.”

To bridge the distance between a trademark specialist and an in-house counsel, “s/he must have substantive knowledge of marketing, data privacy, regulations, project management, compliance, IT, business, PR, etc,” Tuijl says. “S/he can then perform well independently and also take leadership roles.”

To help transit from working in a law firm to in a brand, foundational resources must be provided, says Jayne McClelland, an in-house trademark attorney at Syngenta Crop Protection AG in Basel. “Professional education and training in workshop and mentorship form don’t only help enhance legal knowledge but people skills and EQ as well. Developing best practice guides for project management and data analytics concern most people, as these areas are relatively new and many are afraid of not being able to keep up with technology.”

As far as the future of law firms, Peter Sloane, chair of the trademark and copyright practice group at Leason Ellis in White Plains, starts off with a brief introduction of law firms pre- and post-2009. “The financial crisis turned everything upside down! Clients before that would never have pushed back due to abundant financial resources but after companies’ bottom line was squeezed, they began doing a lot of cutbacks and became hard to please.”

In order to please clients, firms need people and trademark practice is all about talent! “We must be able to attract and retain millennials,” Sloane says. “To do that, we must rethink our culture as millennials demand work life balance, diversity and inclusion, positive work environment, great flexibility and mental well being.”

Law firms overall should also be able to have flat fees or hybrid billing nowadays, he says. “Also, as technology is helping a lot on prosecution work, firms should focus more on contentious.”

Besides competition amongst lawyers, others such as the Big Four, trademark mills, user-friendly IPOs and technology, are also taking a big piece of the pie of law firms nowadays, says Maximilian Kinkeldey, a trademark attorney at Grünecker in Germany. “We must therefore adapt in ways like assigning remote and repetitive tasks to automation, using AI to analyze and predict. As human-required contribution is reduced, costs are saved. But while the payoff is great, technology is expensive, so it might affect solo and small practices deeply at an early stage.”

Similar to in-house counsel, law firms’ attorneys must possess broader skill sets to become brand consultants, marketers, enforcement agents, prosecutors, etc, when  necessary — they must not only offer legal advice and must deliver efficiency and value to survive, says Kinkeldey.

In terms of the future of IPOs, David Kappos, a partner at Cravath in the US, warns that IP systems are constantly changing, so they must be prepared for challenges and opportunities.

“The game changers include the fourth industrial revolution, big data, globalization and harmonization with surging volumes of IP applications, subsidies and bad faith filings.”

IPOs’ traditional roles were only stewardship such as supporting law harmonization, providing optimal pendency and new technology in services, granting human and financial resources to parties that need the most, Kappos says. “But nowadays, we need to connect stakeholders, support R&D and leverage market efficiency with ownership information.”

Last but not least, he shares his tips on how IPOs can survive Covid-19. “They must equip themselves to withstand current and future crises — the pandemic has unveiled weaknesses and needs to address financial sustainability. It has also unveiled superfluous traditional requirements for IP applications, which need to be cut afterwards. Also, necessity such as therapeutic products has and will become a big driver for innovation during and after Covid-19, so more help is needed in that area.”

Johnny Chan

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