One of the great things about a career in the Law is the incredible scope of areas you can specialise in – everything from employment law to family law, criminal law to probate. Michael Gardner specialises in Commercial, IP (Intellectual Property) and IT Law at Wedlake Bell. In fact, his expertise is so deep he’s actually written a book entitled The Bright Idea Handbook about it.* Here, Michael tells us all about the world of IP.
Michael had no idea what he wanted to do when he left university so he worked in advertising in the newspaper industry and then in recruitment for five years before he decided to go off to law school and start from scratch. When he entered the Law he started by doing general litigation and it was two years before he became involved with Intellectual Property, pretty much by accident. Explaining what happened he says: ‘I inherited a couple of cases and found myself doing a case for diaryist Andrew Morton (writer of the infamous Princess Diana book) concerning some copyright litigation with a newspaper. That was very interesting and it just snowballed from there and I’ve been in IP ever since. IP is a growth area, it is big business and even though we are in a recession our work has not really fallen off, fortunately!’
He is now highly experienced in both pursuing and defending claims in the fields of trade marks, passing off, malicious falsehood, copyright and designs. He also regularly advises on the associated areas of confidentiality, privacy and data protection for clients ranging from well known brands (such as Which?) to small start-ups. ‘I love what I do because it is very challenging; they are interesting jobs for interesting companies, with an interesting subject matter,’ he says. ‘What I do is very varied – it could be a case where a fashion designer is accusing my client of ripping off their latest work from a catwalk to turn it into a mass commodity, or it could be someone is using a trademark that belongs to someone else, so there is infinite variety. It’s fun when it is all high pressure
and you have to go to court to get an injunction very quickly, and burning the midnight oil can be quite fun too.’ The fact this area of the law involves plenty of creative brainwork also attracts Michael. ‘I enjoy writing long letters making lots of clever points; you can enjoy reading a letter like that again and again. Litigation is adversarial; you are trying to score points off the other side and writing long letters can be very rewarding. If you get it right when you write a decent letter to someone who is infringing your client’s rights you can sometimes actually scare them off or persuade them to stop without a shot being fired. Or sometimes it can be very dramatic; like having to get an injunction at the last minute, or even a search order. However, they are so expensive to do they are like the nuclear weapons of IP law!’
Now Michael has put all his expertise and experience into writing The Bright Idea Handbook, a practical, step-by-step guide for understanding intellectual property law and tips on how to find and use the best lawyer to help you. Aimed at anyone who has ever considered entering the Dragons’ Den, or even had just a seedling idea, it contains tips for tackling infringement of your idea and how to make the most of the protection you do have through franchises and licenses. ‘The point of the book is that there are common scenarios I see all the time,’ explains Michael. ‘The biggest one is because money is tight, when people are starting up they neglect their intellectual property and don’t register what they need to register until it is too late, or someone has got there first. Then they have a long battle to get themselves back on track. Failure to act on intellectual property is a mistake a lot of people make. Even well known household companies can make mistakes along the way, usually when their commercial arms do something without referring back to the lawyers, and that can become very expensive.
‘Failing to get title to things is another common mistake – thinking you own the copyright to something you got an outside agency to do and they own the copyright – that can get very messy. Another is failing to get a good set of terms and conditions when you start trading; that will cost you virtually nothing from a law firm and yet people will hash together their own contracts and really make a mess of things and come a cropper that way. Occasionally you come across situations where by failing to apply for a patent for an idea on an invention businesses have missed out on millions of pounds. If you have a great idea which could turn into a monopoly making you millions you have to be aware of these things. When Mike Zuckerberg was accused of ripping off the idea for Facebook from some college mates who had worked with him on it, I think they ended up settling for 60 million dollars. That was a classic ‘alleged’ example of letting an idea seep into the public domain. If you do have a bright idea in business then you do have to tell certain people about it, you just have to be careful what you tell them, how much you tell them and under what circumstances, so you need to get people to sign a confidentiality agreement first.’
Having read the book, one of Michael’s trainees at Wedlock Bell commented it was perfect for trainees to use as a nutshell guide to intellectual property. But he says, he really wrote it to help people who are trying to get their business off the ground and don’t know how make use of IP properly. Either way, it is a great showcase for his knowledge and interest in what he does. Even after advising on IP for 12 years he says: ‘It always challenges me and stretches me.’
* The Bright Idea Handbook provides practical, step-by-step guidance for understanding intellectual property law and tips on how to find and use the best lawyer to help you. The Bright Idea Handbook, from Which?, can be ordered on 01903 828557 (£10.99 including free p&p) or at www.which.co.uk or bought from bookshops.