A transformative year

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced associations such as the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys to find new ways of influencing, meeting, and learning, says the institute’s Amy Williams.

The impact of COVID-19 made 2020 a year like no other. When the crisis hit in March, it forced employees of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) to adapt and change the way the institute worked. Our central London office was closed, and our officers, committees and employees all began working from home in order to maintain business as usual.

Despite the uncertainty of lockdown, CIPA remained committed to bringing its members the high-quality services they were accustomed to and continued to work with the UK government and international decision-makers to represent their best interests.

Influencing at the highest levels

One of CIPA’s great strengths is the willingness of its members to get involved with committees and working groups. The institute has a brilliant record of initiating improvements in IP law and systems, and this is due to the time, energy and expertise of our members.

In establishing its priorities for 2020, CIPA Council identified as three important work streams (i) promoting the UK’s continuing membership of the European Patent Convention (EPC) and business as usual at the European Patent Office (EPO); (ii) the loss of rights of representation at the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) in respect of trademarks and designs; and (iii) the UK’s participation in free trade negotiations.

To support this work, the institute’s IP commercialisation committee picked up the important responsibility of representing council in discussions about free trade agreements, joining the government’s IP Expert Trade Advisory Group. CIPA Council also approved a programme of events, visits and other activities to promote the UK profession.

As part of this, the International Liaison Committee’s (ILC) practices were adapted to ensure that the institute’s message continued to be heard overseas. The pandemic showed that despite difficult circumstances, relationships can still be built and developed with key international partners.

ILC’s first virtual event was a roundtable meeting with the Japan Patent Attorneys Association (JPAA), featuring talks on the Unified Patent Court, the future of the IP profession, and Brexit. The Japan working group was pleased that the event could go ahead virtually and has now organised for the 2021 annual meeting to be in the same format.

In October, the Japan working group organised a webinar for JPAA members on the Unwired Planet case. The webinar included a presentation by Alan MacDougal and an interview with Lord Justice Birss on his judgment in the case and its effect on global case law in the area of standard essential patents and fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory licencing rates.

ILC’s planned North American Roadshow, which was set to take place in Toronto, New York and Boston in April, was cancelled due to travel restrictions. In place of this, the committee organised two webinar series with our roadshow partners, the IP Institute of Canada and the UK IP Office.

The virtual events that ILC produced were very successful and the committee built a strong foundation for continuing this work through 2021.

“Despite difficult circumstances, relationships can still be built and developed with key international partners.”

Amy Williams, CIPA

Education and regulation

The Patent Examination Board (PEB), which is constituted as a committee of CIPA and supported by CIPA’s head of qualifications, Angelina Smith, worked hard to deliver the UK 2020 Qualifying Examinations online as the COVID-19 crisis continued into the second half of 2020.

Once approval was granted by the IP Regulation Board (IPReg), the PEB planned and successfully delivered the online examinations in less than 16 weeks.

The papers, which are usually sat in examination halls, were converted into an online examination held in October. Six hindered and seventeen candidates took their foundation and finals examinations and uploaded their answer scripts to the purpose-designed PEBX system. Designated contacts in firms managed the exam invigilation for 217 candidates, while the remaining 400 candidates sat their exams at home and were invigilated by PEB invigilators via Zoom.

Feedback received from candidates and designated contacts was overwhelmingly positive and the PEB has already approached IPReg and received approval for the October 2021 examinations to be delivered online.


Moving CIPA’s flagship events online was a challenge, but the congress, IP paralegal, and life sciences committees, and the staff at CIPA, managed to plan and successfully deliver CIPA Congress, the IP Paralegal Conference and the Life Sciences Conference virtually for the first time.

We had a fantastic line-up of speakers for congress including António Campinos, president of the EPO; Tim Moss, chief executive of the IPO; and Chris Smith, chairman of IPReg. Delegates enjoyed sessions on topics including claims against IP professionals; challenges and opportunities at the EPO; the Supreme Court’s Unwired Planet decision; mental health and wellbeing; IP and international trade and harmonisation of European patent law after Brexit.

There were opportunities to network in our breakout chat rooms. We had more than 100 delegates tuning in for most sessions over the four days.

The IP Paralegals Conference also had an impressive line-up of speakers including Christina ten Hövel, patent formalities expert at the EPO; Michael Carter, senior policy officer on trademarks and designs at the IPO; and Thomas Henninger, senior legal information officer at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Delegates heard sessions on topics including updates from the EPO, IPO and WIPO; Patent Cooperation Treaty latest developments and challenges; transition arrangements for registered community trademarks and designs; electronic filing at the EPO; and overseas formalities for the US, India and China. We had more than 125 delegates tuning in for sessions across the three days.

As well as this, the institute held several successful online webinars and seminars on hot topics such as artificial intelligence, the impact of Brexit on IP, developments in litigation and the life sciences being delivered to audiences from private practice and industry in the US and Canada. These events helped to facilitate the continuing professional development of members and advise on the impact of Brexit.

With physical networking out of the question, CIPA took the opportunity to try a new way to keep in touch with members. The institute launched its very own virtual pub, The Three Graces, with chief executive Lee Davies hosting a series of quizzes on Zoom during which hundreds of members teamed up to find out who were the ultimate quiz champions.

There were 14 teams and question rounds consisted of music, landmarks, Portsmouth (a Davies special), IP, and general knowledge.

CIPA podcasts

Through isolation came innovation. In April last year, CIPA launched a brand new podcast: Two IPs In A Pod. Hosts Davies and honorary secretary Gwilym Roberts chat with entrepreneurs, creatives, patent attorneys and the occasional judge about how patents, trademarks, designs and copyright can improve our lives and solve problems for humanity.

Guests have included president Campinos of the EPO, HH Judge Hacon, Lord Justice Birss, Judge Rader from the US and Moss of the IPO. We have also welcomed CIPA members and their clients to discuss their inventions and why IP is important to their business model.

Since its launch in the first half of 2020, the podcast has gone from strength to strength reaching more than 10,000 downloads across 26 episodes.

“Through isolation came innovation. In April 2020, CIPA launched a brand new podcast: Two IPs In A Pod.”

Free advice from IP clinics and pro bono

CIPA’s IP clinics team were quick to switch from face-to-face sessions to videoconference calls in April. Usually, sessions are held at several sites around the UK to provide free basic advice to unrepresented innovators who are at the early stages of developing an idea. The switch proved successful and virtual sessions will continue to be offered after returning to the office post COVID-19.

Despite the pandemic, the team managed to increase the number of sessions (100 sessions), hours of advice given (50 hours) and the number of volunteers (12 clinician volunteers) compared to last year.

The IP Pro Bono initiative is a partnership between CIPA (which manages the scheme), the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys, the IP Lawyers’ Association, the IP Bar Association and The Law Society. The service offers free advice to those involved in IP litigation who cannot afford to pay. In 2020 CIPA had 14 assisting member firms, 20 individual case officers and over 250 cases.

A year of transformation

All in all, 2020 was a year of performing while transforming. In his blog post reflecting on how CIPA will look post-COVID-19, Davies said: “I am not sure what the future looks like, but I know it should not look like the past.

“A smaller office? Shared meeting spaces? More remote working? Greater use of videoconferencing?

“Everything is up for grabs and we should not shy away from asking ourselves these big questions.”

CIPA will continue to promote and further advance the UK IP profession in these uncertain times and we hope to see our members, stakeholders and colleagues again very soon.

Amy Williams is the communications officer at the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys. She can be contacted at:

Images, from top: Shutterstock / Endless Buta, horiyan, Kate Kultsevych

Annual 2021

Stay up-to-date with the latest news