Stephens Scown LLP
Q. As a full practice firm with a variety of specialisms, how does the team keep abreast of the latest trademark developments so that it can provide a consistent level of service to clients?
A: Being full service ensures we see the bigger picture. We understand not just intellectual property, but the wider business context.
Clients expect us to answer the difficult questions they cannot get help with elsewhere. Often, they trust us with specialist IP matters that their existing advisers cannot help with. Many soon realise the benefits of taking a holistic approach, instructing the firm to advise on other matters, but trademarks are often what comes first.
Much of the work we do is for businesses pushing boundaries and this extends to the trademark front. It is common for us to be pushing the boundaries of what can be done with trademarks and wider intellectual property, so often we are driving those developments.
A key way for us to keep up with developments is to connect with our peers. Our international network of contacts is an invaluable resource; working collaboratively, we can achieve so much more.
Q. The firm was the United Kingdom’s first large employee-owned law firm. How does this give you – and by extension your clients – a competitive edge, in particular in terms of trademark services?
A: Employee ownership is radically different to the traditional partnership structure. The differences run through everything, encouraging everyone to play to their strengths, working as a true team, and meaning that clients always get the best support.
It is typical of the way we do things - disruptive and breaking with tradition where there are advantages to doing so.
Clients know that every staff member they speak with, from the person who answers their first phone call to the managing partner, has a shared interest in their success.
Many law firms struggle to make trademark filing practices work. Being employee owned enables us to be more flexible, allowing different teams to work in ways which best suit them and, crucially for us allowing our trademarks practice to thrive and add real-world benefits for clients. Having trademarks managed by the same firm that deals with other matters for a client has huge advantages.
Q. What have been the highlights for the firm over the past year?
A: This year’s WTR ranking is a real high, especially as the team is less than 10 years old. When I started it, I wanted to show that there was a different way of dealing with intellectual property - this ranking feels like a vindication.
We love innovation. The increased pace of digital adoption this year has helped us to reach more businesses. In particular, despite not travelling this year due to covid-19, our connections with our peers overseas have become stronger than ever thanks to increased interaction through digital tech.
Brexit created a wealth of opportunity in the United Kingdom and European Union. Helping so many businesses navigate these as they look to trade in the United Kingdom and further afield is a privilege. It has been an exciting time to be an IP lawyer!
As if all that was not enough, we also opened a new office in Paddington, London!
Q. What advice would you give young lawyers keen to develop a filing practice?
A: No one is paying you to collect trademarks; they are a means, not the end.
Your job is to make sure that the client’s business and IP plans are aligned. The client’s IP plan should be a driver of, not a reaction to, the wider strategy.
Count your success not by the volume of marks you file, but by the value you add to a business. Take time to understand clients, engage early with their marketing teams, and be heard at board level.
Your client fights for their reputation, every day – for many it is their most valuable asset. Your job is to make sure that effort is not wasted, that their IP activity proactively contributes to the success of their business plan.
Do not fall into the trap of filing trademarks as a reaction to the client’s activity. Always ask ‘why’, be proactive, drive the brand agenda, do not just react.
Q. Finally, how do you see the EU trademark landscape changing over the next five years?
A: The law will evolve quickly (not just in the European Union) to keep up with technologies and also, more importantly, how consumers interact with those technologies. New trademark battle lines are being drawn around issues such as voice search, AI and content creators such as influencers.
Businesses must stop traditional habits of reacting to technology and instead find ways to embrace the system to intercept these developments.
We will see tensions as the technology for tracking counterfeits and monitoring reputation become more powerful. These tools can put control in the hands of brands but are dangerous at a time when consumers are increasingly aware of their data rights and sceptical of traditional messaging. This will be an ever-bigger issue for those outside the European Union but trading within it.
The backlash against brands that get enforcement wrong will increase.
For those who can navigate these issues, the future is brighter than ever.