As we enter 2023 and the potential dawn of the UPC, it is a good opportunity to reflect on the recent changes within the European IP profession, along with the current market sentiment.

COVID has been an accelerator for long-needed digitalisation and modernisation within the sector. Gone, or going, are the paper files and so too are the historical hierarchy and rigidity of IP firms. These are all aspects to celebrate. Whilst 2020 and 2021 can be characterised by digitalisation and flexible working adjustments, and in 2022 geo-political and macro uncertainty, 2023 brings with it cause for optimism (and trepidation) as the sun finally rises on the UPC. Events in recent days, however, suggest that this is no foregone conclusion. Further, the ramp-up time could well be several years given market sentiment suggesting that many companies plan to opt out of some or all their patents initially.

Recent news aside, what will the UPC mean for the European IP private practice landscape? In a word, consolidation. Historically, patent boutiques have dominated the IP sector, in large part due to the nationalistic and fragmented nature of the patent system. The UPC is set to change that. Over the past 2 years, and in particular the last 12 months, Adamson & Partners has managed countless mandates for IP firms looking to grow internationally in preparation for the UPC. This has come in the shape of mergers, acquisitions, or lateral hires.

In addition, law firms with patent litigation practices have begun to hire teams of patent attorneys where once they purely relied on outside counsel. In other cases, boutiques have created partnerships to offer cross border practices, most notably Vossius & Brinkhoff and EIP Amar. I foresee examples like this becoming commonplace as the UPC gradually takes root. Indeed, several partnerships and mergers will be announced in 2023.

This is by no means the death knell for boutiques. On the contrary, many will flourish under the new system. What will be left by the wayside, however, are firms that still believe that best practices of the last generation will succeed in the future. If Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, digitalisation, transparency, and a flexible workforce are not front and centre of your firm’s strategy, I strongly urge you to recalibrate quickly. Existing and potential clients will judge you by it. Future recruits will turn you down because of it. Quite simply, gone are the days of prospective clients and candidates selecting IP firms on their historic reputation.

Within the industry, the message has been a similar one. Individuals expect greater flexibility and greater transparency on developmental opportunities. The market stagnated somewhat during the early pandemic but subsequently intensified to an unprecedented level. The reason for this? Soaring demand, especially within booming biotech, but equally as a result of candidates reflecting and assessing what they wanted in a post-pandemic working environment.

Despite soaring demand for IP professionals and in particular patent attorneys, the number of individuals qualifying every year has actually stagnated, or in some instances diminished. In short, fewer individuals are entering the profession. Firms are receiving reduced levels of applications for trainee positions, and this is not strictly down to the reputation of the firm. For the most part, it is down to the continued unfamiliar nature of the IP sector, coupled with the incredible demand for talent from other verticals. Most people within the IP sector fell into the profession by chance, rather than design. Nowadays, students are being snapped up by other sectors before they even get the opportunity to consider IP as a career option.

This needs to change. More needs to be done at a collegiate level to not only educate individuals about the IP profession but also incentivise them to join the profession. Several firms already attend careers fairs at universities or give seminars, but this needs to become the norm.

In summary, it is an excellent time to be working within this profession, despite macro uncertainty. IP has historically shown itself to be recession-proof, given its innate value and finite talent pool. This is not limited to prosecution. The European patent litigation market continues to flourish, in recent years with the smartphone wars and now the COVID wars. Firms are thus considering growth rather than consolidation.

With that, I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and wish you health, happiness, and unitary patents in 2023!


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Julian Adamson

Managing Partner, Germany