Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Official bilateral IP office placement: Can the UK IPO go that far?

No, its not on Afro Leo's territory
This Leo must be an IP technical assistance fanatic to spot this piece in the UK IPO's May newsletter. It reads:

"In April, the IPO hosted a two-day visit for a rising academic from St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean. Ms Jihan Williams, a Chevening Scholar (UK Government’s global scholarship scheme) is one of their strongest candidates and is currently studying an LLM in Intellectual Property at Queen Mary University, London. 

Studies aside, Jihan is a lawyer at the Attorney General’s Chambers in Basseterre. Previously, IP functions in St Kitts and Nevis were handled by the High Court Registry, but in 2011 their IP function was made a standalone department, albeit with only three staff. The purpose of her visit was to see how an efficient, established IP office operates and to gain insight into our best practice. The UK also provides technical assistance to developing countries under the TRIPS Agreement (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights).

Jihan met with staff from our International Policy, Innovation, Enforcement, Copyright and Trade Marks directorates as well as with external stakeholders. The key message to Jihan was that awareness is key; if people respect IP they will carry the message further afield."

Commentary

The leafy UK IPO in Newport, better than London?
It is commendable that the UK IPO even granted Ms. Williams the unique opportunity to see the inside of its walls - albeit just for two days. Yes, IP awareness is important, but we also hope Ms Williams learnt  a lot more than that to benefit the IP office in St Kitts and Nevis.

(1) Can this be formalised or extended for the benefit of certain countries, most in need?

This Leo still remembers the two photographs shared by Nicky Garnett (Second Speaker) at the MIP Forum 2014 which go to support his online discoveries on the state of most IP offices across Africa. IP capacity-building is obviously an issue across the continent.

So, should the UK IPO build upon this kind gesture (as assumed) to Ms Williams by formalising it for students from certain African countries? [Afro Leo might set up a poll on this] For this Leo, it may well be that WIPO is largely taking care of assisting developing countries with administration of IPRs, but developed-country WTO members can equally offer the same - not just on IP enforcement training.

(2) How might this idea work in practice?  Assuming the beneficiary requests for the assistance, and is also ready and willing to play its part in the process, below is this Leo's off the cuff suggested structure - which is not the most innovative idea:

(a) Get the relevant government department, responsible for the funding IP office, to sponsor a few of the brightest commercial law students from its leading law school (or current staff within the IP office) to pursue postgraduate IP studies at a reputable IP institute abroad [Yes, the Government of Thailand is very good at this; this Leo's lovely Thai classmates, back then at college/university, were all on scholarships];

(b) Before the student(s) set off abroad, he/she should spend a good one or two months at his/her country's IP office to understand how they operate [Not applicable to staff];

(c) When in the host country  (e.g. the UK), the university (e.g. QMU, London) - who will already have an arrangement in place with the host country's IP office (i.e. the UK IPO) - will, at a scheduled point, allow the student(s) to go on a placement at the UK IPO. Ideally, the placement should, at least, last for a couple of weeks and expose the student(s) to all types of work including appeals. [Fortunately or unfortunately, the UK IPO is based in Newport, South Wales. The hope is that the scholarship will also cover other things such as accommodation]

(d) Having returned to the university, the student may be expected to write a short comparative coursework on his/her experiences;

(e) When the postgraduate programme is complete, the student leaves to, hopefully, join (or rejoin) his/her country's IP office.

Concluding remarks
Essentially, all that is required from the relevant African Government department is to simply provide the funds to its IP office to take it from there with its counterpart and the academic institution abroad. This reduces bureaucracy.

Placement programmes (professional or not) are nothing new to UK universities or any university around the world; thus, emerging difficulties should be easily tackled. Also, other issues such as confidentiality can be equally handled by the host IP office with appropriate measures. To be relevant, the postgraduate programme could include general IPR administration as a module - with a core focus on certain registrable rights such as designs, trade marks and utility models.['Opportunity to offer more specialist courses', Afro Leo whispers]

Source: here
No doubt that the UK IPO is doing its best, under financial constraints, in the area of IP technical assistance. This Leo won't be surprised if this sort of initiative (official or informal) is already going on between the UK IPO and a few countries, or between other countries. [OAPI or ARIPO could've been the appropriate entity to deliver this sort of assistance to African countries. Unfortunately, things are currently fragmented]

To his mind, this idea or something similar would be much more meaningful and probably less expensive than having a developed country send its IP office staff to developing countries to deliver one-day IP awareness seminars etc - something lawyers/experts within most of those countries can handle.

[Afro Leo selfishly thinks that the UK should attempt to lead on this - starting with African countries - in order to keep totting up Afro Leo IP technical assistance points] Hopefully, it doesn't or shouldn't cost a lot (in monetary terms, if any) for the UK IPO to give this a try. Work experience (paid or unpaid) often just require staff with a bit of patience and time to show someone a thing or two.

Ultimately, the curiosity is whether this is feasible and/or too much to ask for.

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To see how far a UK IP owner can stretch its right(s) to St Kitts and Nevis, try here

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