What next? Meteor strike? Lee Davies reflects on CIPA’s recent challenges and achievements

Here I am sat on the train home from Bristol, having given a presentation on the work of CIPA to our members in the South West. This was my last regional meeting of 2022 and it has been such a pleasure to be back on the road (or rail track) meeting members and discussing the things that CIPA has been doing on behalf of its members. The experience seemed somewhat heightened as a result of the pandemic, with a buzzing atmosphere as we return to meeting in person.

CIPA has a great story to tell its members.

Because much of our work over the last two years has been linked to highly political agendas, it is a story that is easier to tell in person than to put in writing. I will try to reflect on the discussions at our regional meetings here but, for reasons of confidentiality and sensitivity, my reflections will be somewhat abridged. Still, I hope you get a flavour of what we have been up to.

I go back to Christmas 2019. We were awaiting the publication of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) between the UK and the EU early in 2020, expecting to see business provisions in the agreement to enable UK patent attorneys to access the seats of the EPO and The Netherlands without the need for visas. The TCA appeared earlier than anticipated, between Christmas and New Year. Not the best holiday reading, especially when struggling to find any arrangements for our profession to work unencumbered by the expense and inconvenience of repeated visa applications.

I describe what followed as ‘wading through treacle’. This is no criticism of colleagues in the UKIPO, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). The support we received across those departments of government was exactly what we needed, but we were operating in the post-Brexit era and negotiations about market access outside of the provisions in the TCA were ‘difficult’.

To cut a very long story very short, we got there. We now have assurances from the immigration authorities in Germany and The Netherlands that EPO business travel falls under the Schengen visa waiver scheme. Nothing in writing in either country but CIPA was given permission to publish the outcome of the negotiations.

Of course, the work on the EPO visa issue was hindered by the small matter of a global pandemic. When we grabbed our laptops and other essential equipment and headed to our homes to work for a couple of weeks in March 2020 we had no idea it would be at least two years until it was back to business as normal, and that business as normal would be different. The transformation during the pandemic was extraordinary: online conferences, online social events, online learning, online examinations, all delivered at pace and with my team working in the most difficult conditions.

Having left the EU, the UK was free to seek bilateral trade agreements, and CIPA positioned itself to be a trusted friend of government on the IP chapters of those agreements.

Great thanks are due here to past President of CIPA, Catriona Hammer, and the IP Commercialisation Committee. Catriona and the committee she chairs have been closely involved in concluded trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, and ongoing trade negotiations covering Israel, India, Mexico, Canada and the Gulf Cooperation Council. A trade agreement with the US remains somewhat over the horizon. CIPA’s participation in these discussions is covered by a non-disclosure agreement, meaning we cannot tell members as much as we might want to about our work.

Bilateral agreements are relatively straightforward, with two countries giving and taking concessions built around a largely blank framework. Joining an existing trade bloc is more difficult, as the rules of trade are established and the joining country has less room to manoeuvre. This meant that CIPA’s risk radar was buzzing when, in February 2021, the government announced its intention to apply to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a trade partnership comprising Australia, Brunei, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam, with Chile soon to ratify its membership.

We quickly identified that the IP chapter of the CPTPP included elements that were potentially inconsistent with the European Patent Convention (EPC), most notably the requirement to introduce a grace period. We wanted to make sure that the government was aware of the issue and that the negotiations would respect the UK’s existing international obligations and find a way to join the CPTPP which would mitigate the risks of any potential inconsistencies.

The CPTPP negotiations began in September 2021 and are expected to conclude by the end of 2022. We have met with government ministers, lead civil servants, MPs and peers from all parties to raise awareness of the importance of the EPC to the UK’s global trade agenda and, of course, for UK businesses. This is not a political issue. CIPA supports the government’s ambitions for international trade but we want to see these achieved in a way which complements our membership of the EPC. We have also met with our partner representative institutes in CPTPP member countries.

We will share updates on the CPTPP negotiations as soon as we have any news.

The start of 2022 brought distressing news from Ukraine, with Russia instigating military conflict leading to a new refugee crisis. We have attempted to maintain communications with the profession in Ukraine, offer support in terms of helping those fleeing the conflict to find sponsoring families in the UK and for Ukrainian attorneys to temporarily join CIPA. We have also worked with IPReg and CITMA to offer guidance to members on sanctions. This has not been an easy task given that policy decisions are made long before the detailed implementation is known, and in the context of turmoil in government leading to a revolving door of ministers responsible for both policy and implementation.

We now know that the UPC will open its doors for the first time in 2023, with the UPC Agreement expected to come into force on 1 April (no jokes, please). We have immediately started work on the visa question, though the UPC Agreement makes it clear that countries hosting a court must provide access to European Patent Attorneys. We have also provided a series of webinars for members on the UPC and are in the process of launching a promotional video, setting out the benefits of using a UK patent attorney. Less clear at the time of writing is the situation regarding secure sign-on to the UPC CMS and the digital signing of documents. We will be writing to the UPC Preparatory Committee again, setting out our concerns, particularly in relation to the opt-out period commencing before the CMS has proven to be fully operational.

By this time in my presentations at regional meetings I am feeling a little exhausted discussing the campaigning and representative work that CIPA has been involved in and I turn my mind to some of my highlights. It has been a delight to watch the IP paralegal community flourish following the Bye-laws change in 2018 which saw the IP Paralegal membership category launch in 2019. We are about to welcome our 500th IP Paralegal member, which is amazing. With the need to cancel CIPA Congress following the sad news of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the IP Paralegal Conference became our first major post-pandemic event, and what an amazing gig it was.

New committees are just like busses, you spend years waiting for one and then three come along in quick succession. The Diversity and Inclusion Committee, led by Greg Iceton, hit the ground running early in 2022 and will complement the excellent work started by IP Inclusive in this important area for the profession. A new European Liaison Committee, under Chris Mercer, will ensure that CIPA’s links across the continent are strong as we develop our strategy for Europe with the UK having left the EU. The recently launched Sustainability Committee, chaired by Alicia Instone, has the task of helping CIPA become more environmentally focussed and, in doing so, help share best practice in sustainability across patent attorney firms.

It has been really refreshing having the Honorary Secretary of the Informals on Council, making sure that the voice of our student body is heard. This led to the inaugural Student Conference in 2022, a brilliant event in Birmingham with content tailored to the needs of our students. With the Informals now being a part of ‘big CIPA’, I hope to see us do more for our student members, building on the success of the Student Conference.

It would be remiss of me to not include Two IPs in a Pod in my highlights, CIPA’s award-winning podcast.

We took a little break over the summer and October has been a hectic month, with the return of our own conferences and regional events and overseas visits in Asia, the US and Canada, but the Two IPs will return as November brings a slightly less busy schedule within which Gwilym Roberts and I can catch up with some old friends and introduce new guests to the world of IP podcasting.

In closing, November is AGM time, when we elect Officers and Council members to serve a three-year term from 1 January 2023. We said thanks to Alasdair Poore for his term as President, and to Alicia Instone who completes her term as Immediate Past President at the end of the year. Congratulations to Daniel Chew, who becomes CIPA’s first Asian President on 1 January, and to Matt Dixon, who will serve as Vice-President.

Will Burrell, Alicia Instone, Rob Jackson, Parminder Lally, Suzanne Oliver, Debbie Slater, Sheila Wallace and Simon Wright were elected to serve on Council for a three-year term commencing 1 January 2023. Will, Suzanne and Debbie have been elected to Council for the first time. Alicia, Rob, Parminder, Sheila and Simon have been re-elected to Council.

This means that sadly we will see John Brown and Tim Jackson leave Council at the end of the year. Both John and Tim have made huge contributions to the work of Council and it will be sad saying farewell (but not goodbye) in December. Seán Harte was also unsuccessful this time in seeking election to Council.

It was a very competitive ballot and there was a significant increase in members voting, with a 22% turnout. CIPA prides itself on being a democratic professional body and we could not achieve this without members standing for election to Council, so thank you all.

Lee Davies

Date Published: 7 November 2022

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