Highlight: Patent attorney numbers are on the decline

Australian firms presently take on much filing and prosecution work related to NZ IP rights from overseas

Highlight: Patent attorney numbers are on the decline

Patent attorney numbers are on the decline in New Zealand, and have been for a while, according to the recently published Sector Focus: The New IP – Providing protection and opportunity report.

Attorneys who move on due to retirement, relocation or in-house counsel opportunities are not being replaced, which creates “a lot of churn in larger firms,” James & Wells partner Ceri Wells said.

“We’re also seeing a lot of poaching, which is driving salaries up across the industry and will inevitably flow on to clients’ costs,” he added.

The expanding role of Australian firms and the lack of training have been flagged as major reasons for this decline.

“Australian firms now handle the majority of the filing and prosecution work for the New Zealand intellectual property rights that come from overseas, which constitutes about 85% of the patent filings,” Wells said.

“Attorneys used to be trained in-house and examined by the New Zealand Institute, with each exam paper costing about $25 to sit. Since the regulatory framework changed, we’ve been absorbed into the Australian system – a combination of training and university courses with a total study and examination cost of about $45,000.”

The spike in expense has dampened small firms’ willingness to take trainees on.

“We need people who understand specialist areas such as artificial intelligence and blockchain – people with degrees up to PhD level who can earn really good money elsewhere. They’re not going to take on another massive debt to start on the bottom rung,” Wells explained. “As some university courses are run out of Australia, they don’t even qualify for student loans. That means firms are having to commit to a very expensive arrangement with trainee patent attorneys who can’t even be bonded for long.”

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