How has the trade media model changed over the last 20 years, from print publications to digital multimedia solutions, and how is this facilitating interaction and supporting innovation in the IP sector?

In the latest podcast in our 'In Conversation with Gowling WLG' series, the interviewer becomes the interviewee as global IP partner Gordon Harris speaks to Managing Intellectual Property (MIP) managing editor, Ed Conlon.

In this episode, we delve into the world of intellectual property journalism, talking sector media models and innovation, and keeping pace with an ever-changing sector.

We explore:

  • Ed's journey into the world of IP journalism, covering his route from History grad to Managing Editor;
  • the boom of IP and sector trade press since the 1990's and its evolution from the print world to digital media;
  • working with the leading players in intellectual property, facilitating sector interaction, and connecting businesses at the IP coal face;
  • the MIP business model, navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, and how the publication seeks to differentiate itself from market competition;
  • the legal and business marketplace in the wake of global turbulence in 2020 and sector flux worldwide;
  • the intellectual property news agenda, important sector developments, and the big issues in IP going into 2021; and
  • Much more.

Gordon Harris: Welcome to the latest in our series of interviews with leading and influential people in the world of IP. My name is Gordon Harris from the Gowling WLG International IP leadership team.

One of the big developments in the 30 odd years that I have been practicing has been the arrival and evolution of the legal press. Back in the 1980s all you ever learned about other law firms was through gossip or the Law Society Gazette if they had managed to get themselves into trouble. But from around 1990 we saw the arrival of publications like The Lawyer and Legal Week combining some legal updates with industry news and increasingly directory-style rankings and awards. Then came more specific sector legal press and in that category, the leading player in the world of IP, was Managing Intellectual Property known to us all as MIP. I am delighted to welcome as my guest today the current managing editor of MIP Ed Conlon. Welcome Ed.

Ed Conlon: Thank you Gordon, good to be here.

Gordon: Excellent, well let us get started shall we? To kick us off perhaps you could tell us a little bit about your career to date and how you ended up in this pretty high profile job.

Ed: Yes absolutely. So I started off in journalism straight from university, I actually studied history so I do not actually have a legal background myself. So after my degree as many graduates do looking around for a job and kind of found myself applying for all kinds of things really and one of them just happened to be something in business to business (B2B) journalism for a legal publication. Probably at that stage I did not really know anything about B2B, I was only really familiar with newspapers.

So I had a voicemail one day from someone called James Nerton who is obviously a well known to many people in IP and I had this voicemail asking me to go for an interview, and one thing led to another, and I ended up Managing IP sort of fresh out of university. Unfortunately I was made redundant within about a year so it was a bit of topsy-turvy start to my career shall we say, so I moved across to World IP Review which again I am sure people are familiar with, stayed there for several years, eventually became editor there and then at the start of last year moved across to Managing IP again - so came back to where I had started as it were but this time as managing editor - which was a slight role reversal and a bit strange but still nice as well to be fair.

Gordon: You did not have a grudge against them then.

Ed: Exactly, no obviously not enough of a grudge to stop me coming back so yes it was good, I came back a year and a half ago, still some of the same faces working there funnily enough as it probably tends to happen in many companies. But it has been a really good year and a half and we have got a great team there, it has been a really good fun 18 months enjoying the role.

Gordon: Excellent. Well let us plunge straight into the heart of all this then I stated briefly over the sort of background of legal press at the beginning but how do you see the place of a publication like MIP now? What do you see as the balance between providing legal knowledge, case updates etc. and also legal news, mergers, senior appointments and all that sort of thing?

Ed: Yes absolutely so probably within the last two years just before I joined there was a really clear move in strategy and focus at MIP actually. Lots of the legal press and the IP press do focus heavily on news and that is great but what I think was decided was that really it is not necessarily what people necessarily want to pay for. They want higher level, more useful and practical information so really I guess it is important to stress that we are a membership subscription based provider and some of the others are as well absolutely but not everyone and our raison d'être I suppose is to provide high quality predominately in-house focus content actually. Lots of our stories will feature quotes from plenty of in-house sources, there is still absolutely a room for private practice lawyers as well because they have certain insight and expertise that the in-house counsel guys just do not have at all.

But we do focus I would say more heavily on the in-house counsel business side than some of the others and we have made it our mission as well to focus on lots of judges, so lots of high profile judge interviews in the last couple of years since I joined. Again people maybe familiar with these but if not we have not just interviewed people in the UK but in Germany and France and the US as well. So there has been a real international flavour to those interviews and so we really feel the access to the sort of high profile in-house counsel judges and also private practice people is exactly what people want really. As I say there is still absolutely room for expert analysis from law firms, they write plenty of great articles for us and at Gowling I think Matt Hervey is currently writing one for me on IA inventorship in fact.

Gordon: Yes.

Ed: You know that is just one of the examples. I think there is still room for brief updates and news on appointments, people do want to hear that and we do include that for sure from time to time including in our magazine which does have dedicated pages to appointments and to a bit of news and we have recently started doing a feature called day in the life which is a bit more of a light hearted look at what just someone in IP would get up to on an average day. We have done a couple of those now but to be brutally honest the magazine is less of a priority these days we are much more digital focused.

Gordon: I was just going to come on to that really because I mean I sort of do not subscribe to a newspaper anymore or rather I do subscribe to their website and look at things on there and when I read MIP I read it online. So in this increasingly digital world what is the future for publications like yours? Are you planning any new platforms? Got any fancy AI projects in the pipeline?

Ed: Yes absolutely so yes you are right. I think what you say there is shared by many people I think it is the people who really like to read content just in print now are few and far between I think. We have been going towards a digital model in journalism for a long time and I think people have always talked about will print die out and it may never quite die out but I do not think it is never ever going to be as prolific and prominent as it was let us face it.

So with that in mind as I said we have reduced the focus on the magazine we are only down to four issues now a year but with that really strong focus on the website. So earlier this year we relaunched our website and rebranded which was a big project, it was many months and many meetings but we sort of got there in the end. I think in terms of our focus apart from continuing to do what we are doing really we are adding new weapons to our armoury I would say so we have started doing podcasts which have been really popular.

The podcasts are great I think they give people just a slightly different dimension and it is nice I guess a kind of mini version of a conference in a way isn't it, you see those really interesting panel discussions at the conferences and it is good to get three or four people just together. These days it is not in a room obviously it is usually on a zoom call or something like that but just to talk about a particular issue whether it is counterfeiting or FRAND or something like that. So that is something we are absolutely focusing on more and more.

Gordon: Yes I am a complete convert to podcasts, you are walking between events or whatever and you can just listen in and they are normally of a manageable length. I think it is a terrific way of communicating, which we are looking to adopt ourselves as you can see.

Ed: Absolutely I totally agree I think it is really good and I am a big fan of the Economist podcast I think they do them really well. I am not sure if you listen to those or not.

Gordon: Yes I do yes.

Ed: They have got some really good ones and I think they set a good standard actually for B2B high quality content, audio content. So yes, we have got podcasts, I have started myself doing more opinion pieces to try again just give a different dimension and give us a bit more of an identity so it is a bit more personal and I have to say that we are adding members and subscribers all the time so I think people do like it. I do not think we have got any AI projects specifically, we are not quite there yet perhaps but on our research and awards projects some of those I think in the future will be data driven so I mean it is not quite AI but it would be more data.

Gordon: Yes it is bordering onto it isn't it I think one of your recent opinion pieces has been on that topic hasn't it and one of my previous interviews has been with the woman who is the head of policy for AI at Wipro so we are all aware of how important it is and Matt Hervey at our end is looking into all that as well as you know.

Now this has been a funny old year in the IP world because normally we are on and off aeroplanes and attending conferences and one of the big roles of MIP historically has been to work at these conferences, you provide the daily updates, hosting events and whatever. Does the absence of these conferences represent an opportunity or a threat to you? How can you help fill the void that is left by these networking opportunities?

Ed: Yes I mean you cannot shy away from the fact that for any conference provider in any industry at the moment it is incredibly difficult let us face it. The world has been turned on its head and one of the big casualties of that, there have been many obvious causalities unfortunately but talking about business events has had to sort of cope with severe challenges I would say but despite that I personally am not involved in the logistics as much as other people on my team are but those guys on the team who you know, my MIPs team, they do a fantastic job.

I was really impressed by the speaker roster at our recent events. We have pulled together some great panels there and it is still obviously something that people want to be involved in and I think there has been great engagement as well on the ones we have done already. I think people have been tuning in as in as many numbers as they had before, if not more. So I think that is encouraging.

Gordon: In terms of your own events, I can see that and of course your events tend to be quite content, they are content driven, there is a nice networking angle over lunch or coffee but when I come to one of your conferences it is to go to the events, it is to listen to the talks, to listen to the sessions or increasingly these days to moderate them as well. What I am thinking more of are things like Inter where to be honest I do not go to that many of the working sessions that is not why I go to Inter or not why I go to a APAA or anything like that. It is to mix and mingle and that is gone for the time being so can you help us fill that gap.

Ed: Yes, look I mean obviously when it comes to events we are never going to be on the same scale as Inter or AIPPI or somewhere like that but they have a very specific role which is to bring often thousands of people together. I do completely accept that there is a void there, I suppose there are a couple of things to say.

The first one is that because of our in-house focus over the last two years we have built up a huge number of contacts to be quite honest. The team they really have done a brilliant job on that and what that means is that when we do not have these networking opportunities at places like Inter for us we are in a stronger position than others I would say because we have already got so many good contacts and we already speak to them on a regular basis. So it does soften the blow to some degree. So I think that it is a positive.

I mean the other thing to say is that obviously with these conferences they are still available online usually, you can watch them live. I mean it is not quite the same but you can at least still be sending questions via the Q&A you can do networking on the platforms that we use at MIP whether or not Inter will use the same, I am sure they probably will but it is possible OK. It is never going to quite be the same but it is possible to network if you want. Yes look there are opportunities there, what I think will be interesting to see is how somewhere like Inter goes about the virtual conference because if they can do a really good job then it will be interesting to see whether or not that model stays in future.

Gordon: I do wonder, although I think people do like to get together and I am sure that conferences will go forward but I wonder if there will be a reduction in the number of them. I think I once said that a really well organised IP lawyer could probably get on a plane on about 1 January and be going from conference to conference for the entire year and now I expect to see a reduction in that and just think that a whole host of factors, environmental and other things will intervene there.

Ed: Yes, I think for us we will go back to physical conferences whenever we can obviously but I am sure for many conference providers the future quite possibly will be some sort of hybrid. We will just have to see how things go I think.

Gordon: Now you are in touch as you said yourself with the big players in the IP world whether it is judges or senior GCs or whatever. What are you picking up from them at the moment about their plans and concerns and are there any trends emerging? Do you think the IP world is coping well with COVID-19 or badly?

Ed: Obviously the issues that people raise tend to be very industry and location and IP discipline specific don't they? A FRAND specialist in Germany the issues they face will be very different to an anti-counterfeiter specialist in China or somewhere, there is a huge variety which is actually why I do find the issue of IP very interesting because you move between these different topics very easily and very quickly so that is great. I would say on the in house side that the one thing that has come up unsurprisingly is budget, there is a big question about are budgets being cut? If so by how much etc. As far as I can see to be honest budgets have been I think largely unscathed.

Now I mean I know that some people have had them cut I am not denying that but I do not feel there has been a mass cull of budgets and that certainly came out in a survey we did and I think on one of the recent panels at the conferences as well actually this week. So I think there are positives there for in-house for sure and obviously anything to do with budget affects private practice lawyers as well of course it is sort of a trickledown effect.

Gordon: Yes, well I moderated that session and some of the interesting stuff that came out of it was that obviously the kind of cost cutting that you might do in an in-house IP department is something that may not actually be visible for a little while to come. So it is not really that immediately helpful but I did get the sense that whilst companies did not wish to reduce the new registrations whether they were brands or patents or whatever because that is the life blood of the business going forward they were taking something of a more critical look at some of the more historical rights though and I think some things are being abandoned to save the annual costs which will have its own impacts.

Ed: Yes, I guess that makes sense, businesses are going to have to prune and trim aren't they and be a bit more careful in what they are protecting etc. which I guess is understandable. At least there does not seem to be any mass axe taken to the budgets which is good.

Gordon: I think the IP world, certainly the impression we get is that there is a lot of IP activity still happening, that people are taking steps to protect their rights and perhaps almost more fervently so. Historically we have seen sometimes that IP activity rather counter cyclically has gone up in recessions with people keener to protect their business.

Ed: That is a good point I am sure that has happened hasn't it. Often people will prevail and use very challenging circumstances don't they and it does force people to adapt, that would not surprise me at all. I think just on the question as well, I think in terms of law firms, you will obviously know this better than me but my sense is that some of the big issues right now are actually a bit more about law firm management, thinking specifically office space and working from home and things like that.

As we discussed recently working from home absolutely works for some people it can even work for firms, you said it has been very positive for your firm so I think that is definitely a big issue at the moment for law firms in my opinion. I am big fan of the working from home set up I think lots of companies have shown that it is possible so why not keep it going if that is what companies want to do.

So that has been a positive, I would say on the whole I do feel like the IP world has actually done very well in COVID. I know that there were lots of different elements to the IP world, firms, companies, IP offices etc. but again my sense is that they have coped surprisingly well I would say. I have not heard any horror stories so I think that is great. You know COVID is a bit like Brexit isn't it, it is the sort of talking point on everyone's lips all the time.

Gordon: In so many ways yes.

Ed: Unfortunately that is the way. I feel that most people within the law have probably come to terms I would say with Brexit now and finding ways to just sort out get through it probably begrudgingly in many circumstances.

Gordon: Well the thing about lawyers is this, in the event of the global nuclear holocaust a lawyer will be one of the first people to crawl out from under a stone with something to do when it is over. Lawyers are very good at survival and turning things to account so I think Brexit produces as many opportunities as it does threats in terms of the change. Change is always good for lawyers in almost any form, we love changes in the law obviously when that happens.

If we just touch on another topic if I may now. One of the second things that I know MIP was great on, historically it was one of the first magazines to pay serious attention to China and you organised an event in China with everything pointing towards the increasing opening up of the Chinese market to the world MIP was to the fore. But right now I wonder if that is going to a stall. Now obviously we are talking here before the American election with other people watching this the American election may have happened and that may change things but now right are you seeing any worrying trends coming out of that part of the world?

Ed: To be honest and frank I feel like the issues that come from China are often the same ones that have been there for some time, counterfeiting, trade secret theft, there is no getting away from those kind of connotations when it comes to China. I am sure they are worrying to lawyers and counsel for sure but I would not say they are necessarily new. What I find interesting about China and I actually think it is really important is that it should be viewed in context and I think there is a lot nuance that needs to be applied to China because let us face it, it is a huge country with a massive population and its economy is still in a very different stage to other countries around the world that have more developed IP systems.

I would say it has actually come quite a long way in a fairly short space of time and look there are obviously big issues there but I have to say there has been a lot of positive action that I have seen in the last few years from the courts and also from the IP offices to be fair to China. But as we know there is always going to be that big obvious challenge of political influence for example, the courts may be viewed positively I do not know but there is always going to be the political influence there which you cannot get away from. As I say you are always going to have a vast economy, huge numbers of people to try and educate about IP it is very difficult. But when it comes outside views of China I guess I wonder sometimes whether or not it comes down to people to just not really understanding how to do business there. I am not saying I can because I have never done business in China.

Gordon: I think that is a really going point actually, a really good point I think you are slow to pick up on the cultural differences and that can cause confusion. You kind of have to immerse yourself in it.

Ed: How has Gowling found doing business out there?

Gordon: We have been out there for a long time now, we have had the offices for getting up to 12 years and I think we are really settled into it and completely comfortable working in the Chinese environment and our team out there are predominately local Chinese lawyers and staff generally. So I think all of those things have been overcome. I think the concern at the moment is whether or not the political intension that is developing is going to stall the progress a little bit and make it slightly more difficult to interact whereas up to now I just saw things opening up and it getting easier and easier and China becoming more innovative and recognising IP rights, enforcing overseas IP rights, everything going in the right direction. But then you have someone shouting at them for a moment saying you are to blame for this, you are to blame for that and you can watch something in the mentality in China sort of closing up a bit. There may be a slowing down of that openness, but we will see won't we, we will see.

Ed: I know that there has been, I think it was Tom Duke that you spoke very highly of the IP chap out there and I know that he is not in that role anymore but would you say that the UK network has been good out there?

Gordon: It is a great initiative that was taken up by Foreign Office to put somebody down in that position to really liaise and developed relationships in China and knew the right people to talk to and actually helped, obviously I cannot give any detail, but that actually helped with client matters.

When we had a client who was interested in doing something or was not quite sure how to do it, Tom was able to help and to point people in the right direction so it was a great initiative. It is a very interesting turning of the tables there if you remember my initial email to you about this I mentioned this quite a bit. You were getting interviewed and you have turned it on me, you have turned it back, I am going to retake the initiative here.

You said at the outset that you are not legally qualified yourself so you look at the legal world from the outside in, in many ways. First of all you are journalist and looking at it but also you do not have all the sort of prejudices that are built into lawyers, so what issues are standing out to you at the moment where you think maybe the legal world is perhaps being a little bit slow to move, a little slow to recognise change?

Ed: There are a couple of things I would say. I think number one is that and it is probably not a surprise to anyone out there but I do think that education when it comes to IP and I am talking about educating non-specialists here is I would say quite poor. In the UK at least, if we just talk about the UK just as one example it does not seem to me like IP is taken seriously enough that at a government level. I know that we have an IP minister.

Gordon: We have had many.

Ed: Exactly which is exactly part of the problem I think, they come and go, it is a revolving door. It does not really help anyone and it does not really give a good indication that IP is being taken seriously. I guess it is surprising because obviously we would say this but I think it is fair to say that IP is integral to many businesses, right, so it should not come as a surprise but for whatever reason it has not been taken seriously so I think that is an issue at least in the UK. I am sure it is probably an issue in other countries as well.

So I think what that then means is that it falls to the specialists whether they like it or not to become the educators, to explain why IP is important and I do not think that should be done just within their companies and within their industries but also externally as well. I am sure there are lots of good examples of people doing great jobs trying to influence government and trying to raise the profile of IP within their companies but I suppose from my perspective I do see this issue of IP value coming up time and time again so it just makes me wonder are we making enough progress on that because I suppose it is all well and good standing up at Inter every single year talking about how amazing IP is and how much value it brings to brands, which I am not disputing, but I just wonder if the same message is coming out time and time again. Are we making progress on this necessarily? It is hard to say but I would say probably not enough.

Gordon: I am inclined to agree with you, we did a survey earlier in the year at c sweep level and there is an awareness of IP but it is still not being treated with the respect that you would expect something of that value. Is it not as high on the agenda as it should be so perhaps we can all contribute a bit in that regard. You know you said yourself you have a focus on in-house counsel and in-house teams. So it moves on to my next question really which is how can lawyers wherever they are, whether they are in-house or in private practice, how can they work with you to move things forward for the legal profession generally but specifically in IP, so what do we do that is helpful and conversely what do we do that is unhelpful?

Ed: Absolutely. First of all it is great when anyone works with us we are always keen to hear from new faces and speak to new people whether it is on the editorial side or the conference side or anything else. Based on what I said we are not really a news provider we like to provide analysis and insight that is actually going to be useful for people. So therefore when we are working with people what we want really is honest practical advice because what we do not want and what other people do not really want is just a summary of an event, there is no point in me talking to someone about a case for that person just to relay to me the facts that I already know and that probably other people are just going to know. So it is much more useful I would say to actually say in simple terms like this is what this means and this is what it is going to change, this is the impact etc.

So I think that is what we are looking for and I think foresight future trends is great as well it is always great to hear where do you think this is going to go in the next five years. What is an IP law firm going to look like in the next ten years? Where do you see these things going? That is always great for sure because it helps people to really think about these things and potentially plan as well. I think the core ethos really is that if we can get the best information from everyone and tell everyone else why they need to know about it and why it is important then it would hopefully raise the standards overall as you say.

So that is why it is important on a practical level just the sort of nitty gritty day to day level. I understand why people like to check quotes for sure but it can be a little frustrating sometimes, I am not going to lie, because it can delay things sometimes but look I do not think we have any major issues with that. I think the big one and actually I think this ties into the sort of mind set sometimes in IP of having that slightly traditional old school way of looking at things which is people who are not subscribers will always say to us can you send me a PDF of this story. We say to them look we cannot, we are a subscription service if you are not subscribed to us that is fine just take a free trial but we cannot just give away our content for free on PDFs. We would have no control over that we do not know where it is being shared and I do just sense this reluctance sometimes, I know you mentioned at the start you read online which is great and I am sure other people do. but I think there is still this kind of mind set to be reading PDFs and doing things in a slightly old school way. That is fine to a degree but I just think that is not necessarily where the future is going let's face it.

Gordon: No indeed yes.

Ed: Because at the end of the day the reason we are a subscription and paid for membership is because we are providing what we would argue is really good access to high profile people with really good content and if we give it away why would anyone seek it.

Gordon: Well quite.

Ed: I think that is a challenge, but as I say it is something to work on.

Gordon: Just a couple of points more. MIP sets quite a lot of store by its awards and its rankings and IP stars and all of that. Your approach is different to some of the other directory magazines, Legal Week, Legal Business, publications like this, in that you do not appear to place too much emphasis on financial performance. I wonder if that is deliberate, I mean obviously you have taken great steps to maintain the separation between the editorial and the awards ranking side of things which is good but is it a deliberate ploy not to get too submerged in financial success of law firms.

Ed: Yes I mean I think it is actually. Yes the first thing to say as you mentioned is that and I completely get that not everyone would understand or be aware of this but at MIP there is a separation of powers between the editorial which I run, you know the events which we produce and also our awards and research and rankings rights so they are the three strands now I guess are separated for obvious reasons like you know to avoid conflict of interest etc.

But that is an important point but we are interdependent you know we link together nicely of course you know we publish stories about our conferences on our website for example so there is a lot of crossover. I did actually speak to the guys who are a bit more specialist in awards and research about this because you know I wanted to make sure I gave a kind of accurate answer. But the reason I think we do not look at financial performance so much is because it would not be fair on the smaller companies I think who do not necessarily make as much revenue because I do not think success is just down to revenue. So you know as anyone who has been to our awards or follows the research will know that there are lots of criteria involved in determining who should win a certain award or be given a certain position in the research and ranking. I suppose fundamentally it comes down to the quality of the work and the impact they are having on clients because if a smaller firm has won a really big case at the Supreme Court for example but they do not happen to make as much money as a so called bigger firm I mean why should that count against them.

Gordon: No, yes I could not agree with you more and it is one of the reason why we as a firm particularly value winning one of your awards because you do get a real feeling that it is about quality and not just about financial success. Ed, parting shot, I am going to open the floor to you now. You see a lot of people, you have had a bit of experience now in the IP community and different jobs particularly over the last 18 months in this job. If you had one key message for the IP community, whether it is lawyers, patent attorneys, in-house IP counsel or all of them what would it be?

Ed: A tough one that. I suppose from a sort of slightly selfish self-promotional point of view I would say please get engaged with MIP, you know we feel that we can help you do your jobs better if you do engage with us obviously. From a wider perspective I would probably would go back to what I was mentioning earlier which is, I think it is important for IP lawyers to really get out of their comfort zone, to really try and spread the word about IP and why it is important and try not to exist in a sort of echo chamber. You do not need to preach to the converted about how good IP is, like try and really get out there and tell other people who do not know about IP about why it is so good and why it is important so I think that to me is a really obvious thing that needs to change I would say so, yes I mean that is the challenge for IP lawyers I think.

Gordon: Thanks very much indeed, well that is great thank you ever so much for being my guest today. At one point there was a real danger that you were going to turn around and interview me but I am pleased to say we got that back on track.

Ed: I cannot keep the journalist down I suppose.

Gordon: I realise that but thanks ever so much, I wish you and MIP great continued success. I look forward to following the IP world with you in years to come. Thanks very much indeed Ed.

Ed: Thanks Gordon, appreciate it. Thank you, cheers.

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