New Trans-Tasman IP Attorneys Board Established
A new patent and trade mark attorney regulatory regime came into force on 24 February 2017. The Australian and New Zealand patent attorney professions (once separate professions with their own regulatory and disciplinary regimes), have now merged into a single profession, operating under the regulation of a newly constituted “Trans-Tasman IP Attorneys Board”.
This momentous change comes as a result of the Governments of Australia and New Zealand pursuing the idea of creating over time, a Single Economic Market (SEM).
The idea behind the SEM is to create a more seamless and integrated set of laws, regulations and business practices across both Australia and New Zealand, not unlike the single economic zone of the European Union. The long-term vision of both Governments is to harmonise laws, regulations and practices across both countries in areas such as financial and business reporting, professional service standards, competition and insolvency law and policy, consumer law and policy, and of course intellectual property law and policy. The desired outcome is to create; efficiencies within both markets, promote trade, and also provide a larger “pool” of consumers for products, services, labour and capital.
One of the first areas where government agreement was reached was unifying the patent and trade mark attorney professions across both countries. In Australia, the profession has been regulated by a government body (formerly called the Professional Standards Board for Patent and Trade Mark attorneys (PSB)) for decades.
The PSB oversaw the registration and disciplinary aspects of the profession and required aspiring patent attorneys to hold a technical (i.e. science or engineering) qualification, undertake a university course that covered all aspects of Intellectual Property law, and work for at least two years under a registered attorney before being able to register as a Patent Attorney. In addition, registered Australian attorneys have to demonstrate they engage in continuing professional education (10 to 15 hours a year) to maintain their registration.
Moreover, from a client care point of view, the Australian Patent Attorney Code of Conduct, which is legally binding on all registered attorneys, places very specific ethical and professional obligations on registered Australian patent attorneys.
In contrast, the New Zealand profession has been largely self-regulated, with exams for admission to the profession being held by the profession itself – not by a university or other third party. There was previously no requirement in New Zealand to hold a technical qualification to register as a Patent Attorney. Moreover, there was no specific Code of Conduct that regulated the interaction between New Zealand Patent Attorneys and their clients, nor was there any legal requirement for New Zealand attorneys to demonstrate they engaged in an ongoing level of continuing education.
This historic amalgamation of the two professions brings all patent and trade mark attorneys, whether practising in Australia or New Zealand, under a single set of requirements and regulations, assuring all users of attorney services, whether located in Australia or New Zealand, an identical minimum standard of service.
In practice, clients should not see any appreciable change in the way they interact with Patent Attorneys, although the new requirements will impose additional requirements on attorneys that have been practicing mainly in the New Zealand market. Most importantly, the merging of the two professions will provide a larger “pool” of attorneys, which in turn should provide a deeper and wider skill set, more choice and sharper competition, to ultimately benefit all users of attorney services.