IP law covers quite some ground, from high-tech inventions to
product designs to computer software to brand names. As you
might expect, it’s practised by a wide range of lawyers, from
bearded engineering types in polyester trousers to trendy dudes
with ponytails. Patent attorneys sometimes refer to their field as
hard IP, and everything else as soft IP. They’re the kind of
people who at varsity told jokes like this: Q: What’s the
difference between a pizza and a humanities’ graduate? A: A
pizza can feed a family of four. Trade mark attorneys, acutely
aware of the fact that their profession was once discussed in the
magazine Private Eye under the heading ‘What a pathetic way
to make a living’, grimace and bear it. Although
patent and trade mark attorneys work in the same firms, they have
precious little in common.
These tensions surface from time to time. The UK government,
aware of the fact that it needs to do radical things to stimulate
its economy, has made some welcome proposals to reform IP, and in
particular to help the new business models arising from the digital
age. It says this: ‘An IP system created in the era of paper
and pen may not fit the age of broadband and satellites. We must
ensure it meets the needs of the digital age.’ Issues
to be looked at include the barriers to new internet-based business
models, including the cost of obtaining permissions from existing
rights-holders; the link between IP and competition law; the cost
of IP; and the desirability of applying US-style rules about the
use of copyright material without the rights-holder's
permission. There are also proposals to improve the quality of
patent examination by allowing for peer review. All good and
exciting stuff, but don’t expect to see anything like this
So is everyone in IP pleased? Patent attorneys can barely
contain themselves, but trade mark attorneys are a bit miffed that
it's all about patents and copyright. Are trade marks being
under-valued in the debate on innovation and stimulating economic
growth they ask? As they remind anyone who cares to be reminded,
trade marks don’t only act as signs of origin for consumers,
but also act as motivators for businesses to invest. Brands, they
say, are very valuable, and investment in branding is at the same
level as investment in R&D. In summary: ‘The link between
innovation and branding is twofold: brand reputations act as a spur
to ongoing innovation in product performance which in turn drives
economic growth; and branding supports the take-up of innovation by
consumers, providing consumers with the confidence to try out new
ways of living and working. Original ideas and new ways of thinking
are important but they must be commercialized successfully to
generate wealth. That is where trade marks and branding have a
significant contribution to make’.
So there you have it, a profession manages to justify its
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It has always been the practice of the Industrial Property Institute of Mozambique to prohibit the refiling of trade marks that have been finally refused, which has posed a serious obstacle to trade mark applicants...
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