You worked in-house before becoming a private practice patent attorney, what insights did you gain in your previous career that have helped you with your current one?
As an in-house IP manager, you are always aware that obtaining IP protection is not an end in itself, but that the IP portfolio exists to serve an organisation’s business goals. After switching to private practice, I have tried to bring that understanding to the table in every single client relationship to ensure that the choices made in individual cases also make sense in terms of the bigger picture. This applies to start-ups as well as large corporations that have their own research and development department. Clients tend to be very appreciative when they realise that I have stood in their shoes and know the issues and targets with which they are dealing.
What led you to form your own firm?
In a jurisdiction where the legal and patent professions are traditionally two separate worlds, we wanted to create a firm where technical expertise and legal excellence go hand in hand. In doing so, we created a unique place where clients get the best possible protection for their innovations, while also getting the necessary legal advice to ensure that this protection serves their business needs in the real world.
Our other continuing ambition is to offer a level of dedication and flexibility that is often lacking in larger firms. We are here to support our clients’ innovative activities, with due respect for their unique situation.
What part of your work do you find the most rewarding and why?
Post-grant proceedings, such as opposition proceedings before the EPO, are often the procedures with the highest stakes. The patents in dispute often relate to products that have already been released, so markets can be made or lost depending on the fate of individual patents. Achieving the desired outcome for clients in such procedures is therefore extremely rewarding. I am proud to say that our firm has an outstanding track record in opposition proceedings.
For me personally, oral proceedings before the EPO Opposition Divisions and Boards of Appeal are where it all comes together, and an attorney’s skills can really make a difference. These proceedings require:
- a deep technical understanding of the subject matter of the patent under opposition;
- a solid grasp of the conditions for patentability and the rules of procedure;
- an alert mind to follow any shifts in the other party’s position or the judges’ opinions; and
- the ability to convincingly plead the case.
This may be the part of the job that brings the most pressure, but it is also the most exciting part.
If you could make one change to the current Belgian or European patent regime what would it be?
I aspire to be an agent of change, rather than someone who muses over hypothetical changes. For the past few years, I have been closely involved in a project to modernise the regulatory framework for Belgian patent attorneys, which was falling behind that of other European countries. Through close cooperation with fellow patent attorneys and the competent government agencies, we have laid the groundwork for new legislation that formalises, among other things, a right of audience and attorney-client privilege for Belgian patent attorneys. This new legislation is expected to come into effect in 2020 and will help Belgian patent attorneys to become even more dependable and effective in the pursuit of their clients’ interests.
How do you expect the European patent environment to develop over the next few years?
For the past few years, European patent professionals have been eagerly awaiting the EU patent package (ie, unitary patent protection and the UPC). Various political and legal factors have made the future of this project very uncertain. However, whether or not the UPC eventually comes to fruition, I am hopeful that the spirit of this project will survive and eventually lead to more consistency and coherence in court decisions across the different European states and more efficient inter partes proceedings both in the national courts and before the EPO.
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Michaël Beck is a Belgian, Dutch and European patent attorney at IPLodge. With master’s degrees in engineering and law, he assists clients in patent cases in the physics, electronics and information communications technology fields, while keeping the larger legal context firmly in mind. His special interests include post-grant proceedings before the EPO. Mr Beck is also a part-time researcher at the Law Faculty of the University of Antwerp and regularly publishes on patent law.