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05 October 2016

Setting an example

The Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys now has a royal charter to go with its determination to defend the promotion, protection and enforcement of IP rights in a post-Brexit UK. President Kate O'Rourke explains...

Marked by the granting of a royal charter to the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (ITMA), 2016 will forever be a momentous year in the history of the trademark attorney profession in the UK. After 82 successful years since the incorporation of ITMA, the Privy Council approved our application for a royal charter in recognition of the pre-eminent role of the institute in relation to trademarks and designs in the UK. The move will transform the organisation into the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys.

We want the public and business communities alike to recognise our members for the high standards in qualification, regulation and continuing professional development they possess. The increased profile that comes with being 'chartered' will also help to protect consumers—by using a chartered trademark the public and businesses will be assured of the high standard of service our members provide.

The launches of IP Inclusive and IP Pro Bono have been major developments for the profession. IP Inclusive seeks to improve equality, diversity and inclusivity in the IP profession, while IP Pro Bono will provide advice and representation without charge to those who could not otherwise access professional services.

The past year has also seen challenges, none more so than the UK's decision to leave the EU. The subsequent negotiations to ensure that the interests of business, consumers and our members were properly considered by the government remain ongoing and we continue to work with our partners across the sector to achieve the best result possible.

The coming years will be notable for negotiations on what a post-Brexit IP sector looks like. ITMA is leading the consultations on the continued protection of registered trade marks and designs and has been in regular dialogue with the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) on this. We also appreciate that for our members the continued rights of representation for themselves and other attorneys within the EU system is integral—we are working closely with the Intellectual Property Lawyers Association (IPLA) on this issue.

Working together

The uniting factor with all of the developments this year has been the cooperation with the other leading legal organisations throughout the country, together with the UKIPO. The grant of the royal charter was facilitated by the support of our colleagues at the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA), the Law Society and the Bar Council, together with the UKIPO and IPReg (the regulator for trademark and patent attorneys).

All of these organisations acknowledged that the royal charter would underline the importance of trade marks and designs in the UK economy and the value of ITMA in its efforts to promote the quality of the services offered in these fields by its members.

The grant of the royal charter and the consequent re-naming of the institute to the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys (CITMA) enable us to build on the quality of our international reputation as a profession regulated by the Legal Services Board, and with the highest standards of examination and continuing professional development.

It was also due to the liaison with CIPA and IP Federation that we were able to successfully launch the equality, diversity and inclusion charter under the banner of IP Inclusive. This is a voluntary code of practice for IP professionals to ensure openness and transparency so as to demonstrate merit-based equal opportunities, and avoid unconscious bias.

The campaign continues to flourish with more and more signatories to the charter and the establishment of specific groups looking at issues of gender and sexual orientation. We will be developing the group network to also cover race, disabilities and to encourage access to the professions for the best candidates, regardless of their social background. We will be working with other professional bodies and educational establishments throughout the UK to promote and share best practice, and to celebrate the work of our members in this area.

A lack of resources available to those who cannot afford to pay for legal help, particularly in contentious IP proceedings, brought a number of organisations together to establish the IP Pro Bono programme. Liaison with the UKIPO and Judge Richard Hacon of the IP Enterprise Court was critical to make sure that the solution was fit for purpose, and the assistance of the Law Society and the Bar Council ensured that the programme could offer a clearing house service that encompassed all the IP services that might be needed in hearings, in court or in mediation.

The programme runs alongside the extremely popular legal advice clinics which members of the Institute have been providing for many years and which is to be expanded in collaboration with the UKIPO next year.

EU referendum: strength and cooperation

The decision in the EU referendum also emphasised the strength and cooperation of the IP community throughout the UK, as within days of the vote, ITMA and bodies such as CIPA, FICPI, the Anti-Counterfeiting Group, the Law Society and the Bar Council met with Baroness Neville-Rolfe, the minister for IP, to discuss the best routes to defend the promotion, protection and enforcement of IP rights throughout the country.

The referendum result also underlined the importance of the growing outward focus of ITMA. We were delighted to accompany the minister for IP on her visit to China in August and to be invited to be part of the UKIPO's delegation to India in November.

Our members are integral to the global development and promotion of trade marks and designs law and practice and their skills, knowledge, integrity and professional standards are universally acknowledged.

ITMA is proud to be part of the European 'Sisters' organisation of IP professional bodies, which includes the European Communities Trade Mark Association and MARQUES, and of our close relationship with our colleagues at the Association of Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys in Ireland and the International Trademark Association on the world stage. These friendships will be ever more important in the coming years with increased globalisation and the need for harmonised systems for the protection and enforcement of trademark and design rights for the benefit of businesses and consumers, in a potentially more fractured world.

ITMA and its members will continue to participate in all of the major IP events internationally and to emphasise that the efficacy of UK law and the quality of our services will not be undermined by political uncertainties.

Engaging youth

The impact of current events will inevitably impact most on the students and younger members of ITMA, and there will be opportunities and challenges ahead for both them and their clients. ITMA will be supporting our students with a new student forum to hear directly their concerns and hopes and will work with IPReg to make sure that its educational offering is rigorous and fit for purpose in a changing legal environment.

After formal qualification, ITMA will also be offering an expanded range of CPD (continuing professional development) events to equip our members, whether they are in-house, in commerce, in private practice, or public or voluntary sector, to provide the highest quality of legal service in the field of trademarks and designs, underpinned by training in ethics, litigation and regulatory standards.

Our training programme will also cover technological developments with the advances in artificial intelligence systems innovation which will inevitably impact on our courts and tribunals and the working practices of IP professionals. Again, we will utilise the network of IP organisations both in the UK and internationally to support this programme and to promote the value of our highly trained and regulated ITMA members.

National reach

One of the key attributes of ITMA has always been our national reach throughout the UK and we are committed to continuing our series of roadshows, meetings and social events in the various nations to listen to members and engage with stakeholders at all levels.

Our liaison with the UKIPO is integral to this process as together we will be seeking to raise awareness of likely new legal and administrative proposals, which will be critical to businesses seeking to protect and enforce their trademark and design rights in the UK and abroad.

As president of ITMA, I am proud to represent a diverse membership of individuals who together form an institute that is progressive and forward thinking and a profession that is passionate about providing the best service possible for their clients, while maintaining a sense of community and social justice.

The grant of the royal charter was a landmark moment for the Institute and has enabled us to stand up and stand out as the pre-eminent organisation for trademarks and designs in the UK. A strong legal profession is a hallmark of justice and we will continue to support the independence of the practice of law in the UK and the promotion of the UK as an international hub for IP legal services, while building on the heritage of the institute and the quality of the services offered by our members.

This article was written by Kate O'Rourke. For more information please contact Kate on +44 (0)20 7203 5011 or Kate.O'