There has never been a more exciting time to consider becoming a patent attorney. Innovation, creativity and new technologies are the engine room of the UK’s economy, and legislative changes at home and abroad are changing the face of intellectual property protection.

The UK profession is estimated to be worth around £1billion to the UK economy and operates on a global scale. Whilst the basic ingredients for those entering the profession remain the same – recruiting the very best scientists, engineers and technologists to train in this area of law – there are many new challenges and opportunities that will shape the profession in the future.

At home

The Intellectual Property (Unjustified Threats) Act came into force in October 2017. The Act:

  • Protects businesses and individuals against intimidation to gain a commercial advantage where there has been no IP infringement.
    • Makes it easier for those involved in a dispute to negotiate a settlement and avoid litigation.
    • Brought consistency across the law as it applies to patents, trade marks and designs.

Also, after years of maintaining its fees at the same level, the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) recently increased them. Despite this, the UKIPO remains a highly attractive jurisdiction for patent filings and searches, comparing favourably to other patent offices around the world both in terms of cost and efficiency.

Further afield

The market in Asia is booming, with more and more technological innovation continuing to emerge from countries such as Japan, China and South Korea. China, in particular, has been filing prodigious levels of patents in recent years. The United States remains a leader in the creative industries although, as a global region, Asia Pacific countries now contribute more in terms of revenue and jobs. Businesses from countries such as these are asserting their IP on a global scale and many rely on the expertise and skills of UK Chartered Patent Attorneys to protect their IP assets in foreign markets.

Seismic political changes are altering the UK’s relationship with Europe. However, unlike many other professions, UK Chartered Patent Attorneys will remain largely untouched by them. This is because the European Patent convention is not a piece of EU legislation and the European Patent Office is not an EU institution. This means that UK attorneys qualified as European Patent Attorneys (virtually all) will continue to conduct European patent work entirely unaffected when the UK leaves the EU in 2019.

Greater harmonisation of IP rights across Europe is being sought through the creation of a patent system which will have unitary effect across the continent and the introduction of a Unified Patent Court (UPC). Despite the referendum vote to leave the EU, the UK Government has formally ratified the UPC Agreement. CIPA is confident that the UK will be able to play a full role after Brexit because the UPCA is not an EU instrument and the court will be international in scope. However, German ratification was still awaited and this was the subject of a constitutional challenge progressing through the country’s courts.

There is also a drive to simplify procedures for obtaining IP rights in Europe through initiatives being spearheaded by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the European Patent Office. The use of online central filing systems and data sharing by national IP offices is increasing, whilst search systems are becoming more refined. For businesses with an international footprint, IP is now at the forefront of their strategic thinking. Patent attorneys are members of in-house teams at the heart of major business decisions. Private practice attorneys are expected to offer wider services to industry than in the past, including strategic business advice.

The future of the profession

IP is big business – a global business. The world recognises the strength and status of the UK profession, with UK Chartered Patent Attorneys being held in the highest regard. For example, of the 40,000 European patent applications filed every year by the UK’s European Patent Attorneys (EPAs), nearly 90% are for overseas clients. While UK Chartered Patent Attorneys form a fifth of all European Patent Attorneys, they file one third of all European patent applications. As explained above, Brexit will have no effect on this work. On joining the patent attorney profession in the UK you are entering a global profession which is rightly proud of its heritage and considered among
the best in the world.

As the profession and the international IP landscape changes, CIPA changes too. We will continue to provide effective domestic and international lobbying and new benefits and services to members to help them compete more effectively in the global marketplace. As a student you will receive advice and support throughout your training and will be part of a network of others working towards professional qualifications. Once qualified, as a Fellow of CIPA you will benefit from professional development, and a professional body ensuring that you are represented at the highest level and can influence policy-makers in governments in the UK and around the world.

This article was contributed by the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys.

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