How did you come to be a co-founder of Valea?
Valea was founded as a result of a management buyout in 2004. My previous company, Göteborgs Patentbyrå Dahls, had become part of a Nordic group of IP law firms a few years earlier. Our CEO at the time, Anders Havstam, another colleague and I were able to raise the capital to purchase back ‘our’ part of the group. Fortunately, all of our staff agreed to join us on this venture!
You used to be the firm’s IP director – what does that job entail?
An IP director ensures that clients’ needs are fully met. To do this, IP directors must ensure that they have attorneys with suitable technical and legal backgrounds and administrative staff working with robust systems and routines. Valea is divided into disciplinary teams (eg, legal, mechanics, information technology, lifetech and case management), the leaders of which report to the IP director. Thus, the IP director must facilitate cooperation between the teams and coordinate staff training and development. The IP director is ultimately responsible for ensuring that Valea’s systems and routines stay up to date with changes in legislation in any jurisdiction.
What are the biggest challenges facing a firm such as Valea currently?
Our main challenge at the moment is to recruit the best possible attorneys and administrative staff. We have an enviable client base, with many clients demanding increasing resources for highly qualified work. A significant area of growth that we have seen over the past few years is the demand for our administrative services; thus, we now have administrators sitting in-house at, or online with, clients’ IP departments. Our administrators are just as much fee-earners as our attorneys.
A further challenge is to convince the procurement departments of our larger clients that we really are delivering value for money. Clearly, no one wants to pay more than is necessary for a product, but it is not easy to quantify quality. We truly believe that a high-quality product will be cheaper in the long run compared with an inferior one. Fortunately, our counterparts in clients’ IP departments are often willing to help us in our negotiations in this respect.
You do a lot of opposition work before the EPO – what is the key to success in such cases?
There is no substitute for thorough preparation – there are simply no shortcuts. When representing an opponent, it is important to ascertain from the outset what can be regarded as a successful outcome. Thanks to many years’ experience, it is then possible to give a realistic evaluation of the chances of obtaining such an outcome. It is necessary to put yourself in the position of the proprietor and try to identify how they may try to overcome the various objections. Frequently, we can predict what amendments the proprietor will make, allowing us to check with the client if we should conduct a further search for relevant prior art. When representing the proprietor, you must be familiar with every piece of cited prior art. In many cases, an opponent quotes a passage from a document which, at first glance, appears to be relevant. However, when that passage is understood in its proper context, it is often shown to be much less of a hindrance. When it comes to inventive step, I must tell a story: what were the problems facing the inventors? How did they solve the problems? Why did the prior art not lead to the claimed solution? If we do not have a story, we will not have a patent for much longer.
How do you see the European patent landscape developing over the coming years?
If I knew, I would not be a patent attorney – instead I would play the horses! The rapidly increasing number of enforceable patent rights makes performing freedom-to-operate analyses increasingly difficult. Therefore, there is a clear need for AI-assisted search engines to help identify relevant rights. In order to meet clients’ demands for more for less, law firms need to find new ways of working more efficiently.
Chief Executive Officer [email protected]
Andrew Hammond is CEO and a founding partner of Valea AB. He has a mechanical engineering degree and has been working in the IP field since 1983. Mr Hammond qualified as a European patent attorney in 1993. Aside from some prosecution and opinion work, most of his time is spent in contentious post-grant patent proceedings, primarily before the EPO’s Opposition Divisions and Boards of Appeal.
Click here to see his IAM Patent 1000 2019 profile.