Niamh Hall is a very familiar name in the European trade mark world. Not only is she a partner in FRKelly, a well know IP practice in the EU, and Ireland, but she’s an author and committed blogger on all things IP.
Her day job keeps her busy, as does her role as President of the Irish Association of Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys. But she still manages to find time to play a full role as a user representative in the Cooperation Fund. And she’s perfectly placed to bring a very unique layer of user experience to the projects of the Cooperation Fund. “I’ve been in the business for 16 years this year”, she explains. “Before joining FRKelly I was with a full service law firm, so I was doing IP and commercial law at that stage. I really enjoyed the IP part and wanted to move more and more into that area, and that’s when I moved here”.
Now she’s a partner in FRKelly, a so-called “heavy user” of the CTM system. She’s also working in a very exciting IP environment. “We’d have some very good international connections from our office here in Ireland, who would use us to coordinate their worldwide work, and we´d have lots of American companies coming in to Europe and the home grown European companies registering in Europe and further afield”, she explains. “Ireland is between America and Europe, geographically and culturally – and we have a shared history with the UK in terms of legal systems, so our legal system has similarities with other common law systems such as the US and Canada”.
The Irish Patent Office originally approached Niamh to get involved in the Fund’s projects. “When they were looking for an Irish user to join the group, the Irish Office asked me to step forward. As President of the Irish Association of Patent and Trade Mark attorneys, I’m both a user and a representative of users. Initially they were looking for an in house person, but there´s not that many who would be filing trade marks in Ireland; either they’d use a firm like us or their filings might be handled from another division overseas”, Niamh explains.
As one of the founder members of the user community within the Fund, Niamh has seen the work grow and change over the past several years. “I was there initially when they brought a few people to do some testing, it´s been interesting to see that from then to now, it´s taken over a life of its own. The group is a good mix – we have people who work in-house, people from smaller firms, and from bigger firms too”.
Niamh found herself at the cutting edge of testing the e-filing system developed by the Cooperation Fund for the Irish Patents Office before it was launched.
“As a firm, we did quite a lot at the national level with the Irish e-filing, we did over six months of testing with the Irish system. It was a big investment of time, effort and manpower for the Irish Office to adopt e-filing and we felt it was important to support that. They spent a long time working on it, and I think it was overall very beneficial – it has been very smooth in terms of implementation, and it has paid dividends, it’s working very well. The more time you put in to testing these things before they go live, the better”.
Niamh is quick to point out that the introduction of e-filing into the Irish Patents Office has had benefits for the staff in the Office and for users alike. The previous, laborious key-in system for the examiners has been replaced with a full electronic experience. This has been good for users, in that they can now file right up to midnight electronically, thus giving them more flexibility. “We would not have gotten this, or not for years, if it wasn’t for OHIM and the Cooperation Fund”, Niamh says, pointing out that the economic crisis, and the subsequent budget cuts, in many Member States have made investment in such technologies rarer than before.
Niamh also praises two of the Fund’s flagship tools, TMview and TMclass. She regularly refers clients to TMview, she says, for quick identical searches for knockout purposes before a short list of names is chosen. TMclass, she says, is “very useful”, particularly as its generated results “are automatically acceptable to OHIM and to the national offices”.
Niamh clearly relishes her role representing users in the Fund, and is fizzing with ideas as to how the Fund can develop further from a user perspective. She’s keen to see e-communication rolled out across the ETMDN, for example, and theorises that it could be extremely useful for users in the future.
But at Irish level, how have the Fund’s outputs helped IP in general across the country? Niamh suggests that the e-filing system in the Irish Office may have wider benefits. “Getting an Irish registration should now be even faster, and smoother, and you could start to base your international registration on it more quickly, in terms of using Ireland as a leaping-off point”, she says. If e-filing makes the process more accurate and quicker, she points out, that can only be good for Irish users and IP in Ireland as a whole.