In the 2009 General Meeting on Sunday, in her overview of activities of the Association of Patent Attorneys in Israel, outgoing chairperson, Ms. Michal Hackmey, pointed out that since it was a voluntary professional body, the Association of Patent Attorneys in Israel lacked the teeth to be able to enforce decisions, and that many practitioners weren’t members.
The situation regarding patent attorneys in Israel is different from that regarding Israel Attorneys-at-Law who can be struck off for malpractice and the Ethics Committee of the Israel Bar is able to suspend or otherwise discipline members. Unless one is a member of the Israel Bar, one cannot practice law – appart from the exceptions that is, like accountants practicing tax law, etc.
So what happens with patent attorneys overseas?
Apparently, according to Ms Hackmey, in Japan, all patent attorneys are members of the professional organization by law. Apparently she rather likes that model.
In the UK however, not only is membership of the Professional organization not compulsory, but anyone can represent an applicant before the UK Patent Office, whether licensed or not. This state of affairs has resulted in some criticism however, see “You want to complain” on the IPKAT.
In the EPO, things are a mess, in that whenever a country joined the the European Patent Treaty, anyone licensed to practice before the local patent office was automatically licensed to practice before the EPO, a state of affairs often referred to as “grandfathering”. Thus the standards of competence vary widely, and practitioners who’ve trained under a licensed European Patent Attorney and passed professional exams are generally more competent in European Law than those that haven’t. There are actualy a small number of patent attorneys in Israel who are licensed by virtue of being licensed from before when the 1967 Patent Law was introduced. Leading litigator Arnan Gabrieli, who has edited the Law Society Journal HaPraklit and has chaired the Law Society Ethics Committee is also a patent attorney for this reason, despite not having a science or engineering degree, i.e. not having the minimum requirements to qualify as a patent attorney under the Israel Patent Law. It will be appreciated however, that there are very few active practitioners who’ve been licensed since 1967 of course.
In the United States of America, Attorneys-at-law are not able to represent clients before the USPTO unless they are licensed to do so by having passed patent agent exams and are required to have a science or engineering degree.
Clearly there are advantages and dissadvantages to compulsory membership. Personally, I don’t think it is neccessary. Furthermore, whilst seeing the advantage in guilds and trade unions I am generally opposed to “closed shops” and believe that voluntary bodies can be self-regulating.