The Public Listing Trend
Do you know if the Australian Intellectual Property (IP) firm you use is publicly listed? A large number of firms have now sold out and merged in publicly listed holding companies. This trend signifies a change in landscape for IP Attorney firms across Australia and New Zealand.
- Since November 2014, IPH Limited acquired several Australian and New Zealand IP Attorney firms. These companies include Spruson & Ferguson, Fisher Adams Kelly Callinans (FAKC), Cullens, AJ Park and Pizzeys. They are now in the process of folding FAKC and Cullens under the Spruson & Ferguson firm banner. FAKC and Cullens entities will cease to exist. IPH Limited are also expanding to acquire IP Attorney firms in other countries.
- Since November 2015, Xenith IP acquired three Australian IP Attorney firms, being Griffith Hack, Shelston IP and Watermark.
- Since August 2016, QANTM IP acquired two Australian IP Attorney firms, being Davies Collison Cave and FPA Patent Attorneys.
Is this a problem? Has the public listing of firms eroded the trust clients have with their Australian and New Zealand IP Attorney firm?
Conflict of Interest?
The merging of these IP Attorney firms to be under the holding companies, IPH Limited, Xenith IP and QANTM IP, raises the concern of client conflict of interest. Are the listed IP Attorney firms, under a single holding entity, truly independent? We don’t believe so.
What happens when competitor clients exist in IP Attorney firms, both of which are owned by the same holding company? Do these IP Attorney firms have a conflict of interest? Are the interests of the respective competitors compromised?
As the separate IP firms merge into a single firm, the possibility of a client conflict dramatically increases. For example, as FAKC and Cullens are being incorporated into Spruson & Ferguson, how will they deal with conflicts of interests? Will this entail an audit of their client portfolio and hard decision making? Or are we to assume that even though they are merging, the discussion of clients is banned? Although the acquired IP Attorney firms claim to remain separate, conflicts of interest would appear to be inevitable.
With the merging of IP Attorney firms under a single company and amalgamation of practices, the attorneys and their respective IP Attorney firms are faced with conflict of interest between competitor clients. Both clients are not served well, and the attorneys are compromised in this situation. Will a client’s important information and secrets become known to the attorney acting for their competitor? Ethically the attorney firms are obliged to release both clients and failure to do so is a breach of the Attorney’s Code of Conduct.
Shareholders vs Clients
These mergers have also raised a debate in the IP world as to whether these IP Attorney firms are more focused on client interest or shareholder returns. As these IP Attorney firms are ultimately answerable to shareholders, there is a concern that their clients' interests are compromised in favour of the attorney's masters and management bonuses. Symptoms of this would be over-charging and over-servicing.
This situation and behaviour is not supported by everyone in the profession. At Wynnes we believe IP Attorney firms should be and appear to be independent.
Keeping your independence
If you are concerned that your IP protection could be or has been compromised, then you are probably wondering what to do next. Luckily, there are still truly independent firms that are able to represent your interests without compromise.
As an independent IP Attorney firm, we are not answerable to shareholders and we have a moral and ethical duty to look after and progress our clients’ interests.
At Wynnes, we pride ourselves on being client focused and assisting clients, from application and prosecution, through to grant and registration, in both Australia and New Zealand.
If your IP Firm has undergone public listing and you have concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss options and future possibilities. We transfer matters to our firm free of charge. On request we can provide our schedule of charges.
Ewen Wynne and the Wynnes team.
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WHAT OUR CLIENTS SAY
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