‘Unscripted’ – London

On Monday 13th November we were delighted to host the latest instalment of our UNSCRIPTED roundtable event at the Law Society in London. After early evening drinks, the discussion began and was led by Milli Bouri, Partner and leader of our UK practice. Milli was joined by our four esteemed panelists:

Sheila Henderson – Chief Intellectual Property Counsel, Richemont International SA
Martin Bowen – Group General Counsel, Dyson Group Plc
Simon Harries – Vice President, Intellectual Property, Elekta Limited
Dr Bobby Mukherjee – Chief Counsel, IP & Technology Law, BAE Systems Plc

GDPR

Our first topic for the evening focused on the rise of data privacy as a legal and compliance risk. In advance of the arrival of the General Data Protection Regulation in May 2018, panelists emphasised how this is now a regular feature of board-level discussions. Even companies without European operations are often discovering that their IT team uses cloud
services within the EU’s jurisdiction.

For companies in the consumer goods sector, data pertaining to purchase history must be stored securely and used with sensitivity if public relations problems are to be avoided. At the same time, the challenge represents a significant opportunity. Companies that comply with commercial creativity as well as care have the chance to truly differentiate themselves in the market by building deeper, constructive relationships with their consumers, instilling trust and recommending appropriate goods and services to them which will boost sales. In some industries, such data is also increasingly crucial to research and development for product improvement.

It was clear that talent in the data privacy sector remains scarce, creating a highly candidate-driven market where salaries are thus increasing at an unprecedented rate. Several panellists commented that they have started to think laterally about resourcing data privacy roles, and they have succeeded in up-skilling existing members of their team. No panellists expected demand for data privacy lawyers to subside after May 2018.

Outside Counsel and Technology

The discussion subsequently moved on to the topic of outside counsel and technology , and which services in-house departments are demanding where supply is somewhat lacking. The consensus was that whilst outside counsel are deemed proficient at providing patent procurement services, the market for analytics tools is ripe for innovation. Inhouse attorneys seek better ways of using IP data to contribute to the strategy and investment decisions they influence. In particular, the panel saw space in the market for IP analytics tools that are predictive, proactively flagging trends and developments which require commercial attention. There was additional discussion around the need for in-house and private practice attorneys to better understand one another’s pressures. There was further discussion around the arrival of AI tools for lawyers and their likely impact. The main hope was that suppliers will develop bespoke products.

Apprenticeships

The topic of apprenticeships also spurred significant debate. Drawing an analogy with the engineering sector, where training in conjunction with industry is the norm and Dyson is a leading partner, panelists wondered whether there were lessons to be drawn for the legal market, either within the existing regulatory framework or by reforming it.

Whilst solicitors are often seconded for a part of their training contract, the learning gap between a newly qualified solicitor and a business-savvy lawyer was deemed to remain significant and often time-consuming for managers to bridge. It was also noted how much rarer secondments are within the patent profession. Some wondered whether apprenticeships suffer from undue negative connotations in a society focused on academic paths to success, and whether there was a way to reclaim the honour of apprenticeships in a spirit closer to the German education system. The panel discussed the existing Law Society Trailblazer Scheme, which promotes higher level apprenticeships, and the difficulty of establishing the uptake rate. The panel agreed that effective higher level apprenticeships require collaboration between law firms, IP firms, companies and universities. At the very least, the panel wanted to encourage more reciprocal training and secondments.

Policy

Before the audience retired for further drinks and canapés over conversation late into the evening, the final topic of discussion was the opportunity for policy advocacy . It was noted how easily the issue is neglected, and how this silence is often interpreted by legislators and regulators as indifference, or even tacit acceptance of the default proposal. It was also noted how difficult it is to incorporate the voices and interests of SMEs in policy discussions, despite their collective status as equally significant stakeholders. Various proposals were made concerning which policy issues the industry should prioritise, what their unified perspective should be and how the industry’s voice could most effectively be heard. Examples of good lobbying were discussed, and practical advice was offered to encourage IP professionals and lawyers to impact policy making.

One panellist referred the audience to a recently published Forbes Insights article, General Counsel in The Age of Disruption, which mirrors a number of issues and challenges discussed at this roundtable.

We thank both our panelists and our guests for joining us at our fourth UNSCRIPTED event and making the evening such a success. As we enter 2018, we look forward to hosting a further event in Europe in the spring. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to contact us should you wish to discuss the market and any needs you may have.

For more information, please contact

Milli Bouri

Partner