So what exactly IS a 21st Century Patent Attorney firm?

In some of our marketing materials we referred to Franke Hyland as a 21st Century Patent & Trade Mark Attorney firm. At the outset, that label represented our aspiration for what we wanted Franke Hyland to represent to our clients, colleagues and partners.

Now that we have completed our second year of operation (time flies when you are having fun) we think it is a good time to reflect and expand on what it means to be a modern firm in 2012.
We see the environment in which we operate as having changed significantly from how it was for most of the latter part of the 20th century. Some of these changes have made life harder for the patent attorney in private practice, and some of them have made it easier.
Some of the downsides for the entrenched ways of operation are:
  • Increasing alignment of the patent/trade mark/design laws and systems in each country mean local expertise is perceived as less necessary (especially for larger organisations); and local attorney ‘value add’ is harder to demonstrate.
  • Large corporations are investing in more sophisticated in-house IP departments to handle a lot of the procedural work that used to be done by external providers.
  • Consequently, much of the remaining procedural patent prosecution work is increasingly the subject of price/volume competition.
  • Medium size clients are much savvier about demanding value for money from service providers, so the scope of work, and fees for the attorney, are being focussed on what can be justified as providing value to the client.
  • The Madrid Protocol has seen international businesses file and maintain their trade mark portfolio with minimal need for local agents.

However, there are a lot of upsides to being a patent attorney in the 21st century.

  • The flip side of greater harmonisation in IP laws is that when acting for a local client, we can be much more in control and maintain a much better detailed oversight of implementation of the IP strategy. It has also significantly reduced the cost of filing internationally (also helped by the strong Australian dollar).
  • Electronic communications with clients and government IP offices such as IP Australia mean our work can be done faster and more efficiently, with the location of client and attorney being less critical.
  • Electronic communications also mean we don’t need to rely on paper files, mail, storage etc. Nor do we need as many support staff to manage client files.
  • The ability to outsource non-critical activities allows us to concentrate on the real value areas for our clients, including higher-level advice, IP strategy development, better patent drafting and IP education.


We think the ‘upsides’ outweigh the ‘downsides’ for us as attorneys … IF we are prepared to embrace a different mindset. To us, being a 21st century firm means:
  • Concentrating on local (for us Australian-based and New Zealand-based) clients, who may be foreign owned or controlled, but who have significant local IP development activities.
  • Always understanding that the client’s IP strategy must be accountable to their business strategy, and so investing the time and effort to properly understand that business strategy so that our work will deliver them value far in excess of their investment in IP strategy.
  • Being entrepreneurial and flexible in the way we will work with clients and in setting up fee structures that work for us and our clients (this is much easier to do when you have a very efficient and streamlined operation)
  • Recognising that our clients are usually not IP or legal experts, and that it is OUR job to communicate in a way that makes it easy for them to incorporate IP advice into their business planning. 
  • Being prepared to invest time and effort in raising a client’s level of awareness or competence in dealing with IP – because we have learned that the more the client understands, the easier it is for us to deliver value to them.

We are happy to say that two years in to our journey that our ’21st Century’ vision is paying off for our clients and for us!

by Adam Hyland

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