Usually I choose IP conferences to visit new places. I take my tax off-settable employee wife with me to carry the cases and so on, and whilst I am schmoozing with patent and trademark attorneys, she visits museums, historic sites and also shops. We then have a couple of days to see the sights and some shows together before heading back.
This time, with AIPPI London 2019 sandwiched between the long, hot summer holidays, and the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement, known as the Days of Awe, I decided to make them less awful, by having a holiday from the family.
I emigrated from the UK in 1994, aged 24, and so have now lived over half my life in Israel. However, I still have a British accent, sprinkle acid on my chips, and enjoy tepid beer, Marmite, piccalilli and tea with milk.
I enjoy London and most things British. Not sure about Marmite flavoured peanut butter though. This is apparently even more controversial than Brexit.
My UK Passport was out-of-date, so I queued with the foreign visitors. There was a sign by passport control that said
BEWARE KEEP AFRICAN SWINE
FEVER OUT OF GREAT BRITAIN
This seemed badly parsed. I am afraid that many travelers from Africa might feel unwelcome. However, I don’t think this is a mistake. I believe it was intentional. It seems that BREXIT is motivated by a mixture of xenophobia and nostalgia. There were other signs of both.
There was a Service of Thanksgiving and Rededication at Westminster Abbey on Sunday 15th September 2019, that commemorated the Battle of Britain. The event was marked with a fly-past by a pair of Spitfires who flew around Westminster Abbey, past the Houses of Parliament, over the Cenotaph and back around. As the Queen Elizabeth Center is opposite Westminster Abbey, the iconic fighters turned in the square in front of the conference center.
It seemed that the event was scheduled to remind the large German contingent who had won the war.
Every conference tries to showcase the host country and to make the guests feel welcome. I think that this time, AIPPI failed in this endeavour.
The tea-break on the first day provided sausage rolls (pigs-in-blankets) as the only snack.
Very many of even the less observant Jewish and Muslim conventioneers, such as the Jews who eat vegetarian and the Muslims that drink alcohol when abroad, nevertheless, refrain from eating pork. Sikhs, Buddhists and many Hindus do not eat pork either. This was a show of massive cultural insensitivity.
Although Kosher food was not available at the official receptions, kosher lunches were provided on request in Westminster Hall, and they were superb.
This is worth noting, as the Israel Chapter of AIPPI did not manage to provide Kosher food at their AGM. They also did not manage to present the accounting books, or to have the Spring Festival toast as advertised, as they’d forgotten to provide the wine!
In addition to the Tetley’s at the tea-breaks, strange beverages like elderberry infusions were widely served instead of the more common Colas and the like. This was another cunning attempt to make sure that the foreigners felt suitably foreign.
For some years now, I’ve been representing Elopak in Israel, and have spent happy hours trying to convince the examiner and then the commissioner that minor variations of the gabled milk carton were registerable as new designs. I was therefore delighted with the milk-jugs at the conference center, which also appealed to my sense of humour. In fact, I might well have sneaked one into my bag had it not been for the upcoming Day of Judgement.
Another quirky feature was the inset in the urinals in the men’s toilets.
On the first day, each urinal had one, but on the morning of the second day, only one did. I suspect that these trophies for high scorers now adorn bathrooms in private IP firms and are in use in the pissing contests between the partners.
The Opening event featured Sir Robin Jacob who, controversial as always, weighed in on Chinese enforcement of IP and argued that the Chinese judges are a bright bunch and are doing a better job at ruling on patent issues than the US Supreme Court. This went down well with the large number of Chinese participants, but was perhaps annoying to the American attorneys present.
Jacobs then went on to argue that the term of copyright protection was ridiculous. THere Professor Jacob is clearly correct, the international copyright laws are largely due to Mickey Mouse amendments in the US and to lobbying by Sonny Bono. Most photos, doodles and notes do not require or deserve copyright protection at all. Post-mortem economic rights have never incentivized anyone to create anything of lasting value.
Following Professor Jacob, we heard MP Jo Johnson, who used to be the Minister for Intellectual Property. He came over as a statesman, and one wondered whether, after a haircut and some artificial graying, he wouldn’t have been a better choice for PM than his older brother.
The cultural entertainment consisted of West End Hits including songs from Phantom of the Opera, Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat, Mama Mia and other musicals, presented by talented performers from the West End Stage. They were great. The performance also recharged my batteries as far as musicals were concerned, so I went to see regular plays after the conference.
In recent years the UK has instituted a Supreme Court, and this august body was situated around the corner from the Queen Elizabeth Center where the AIPPI conference was held.
Concurrent with the conference, the Supreme Court was considering the constitutionality of the Prime Minister Mr. Boris Johnson putting parliament into prorogue, thereby stopping debate on Brexit prior to the fast-approaching 31 October deadline. How exactly a court can consider whether Mr. Johnson misled the Queen in confidential conversations, or the constitutionality of him doing something in a kingdom without a constitution was beyond me. Nevertheless it was fascinating to see small numbers of both pro Europe and pro Brexit demonstrators outside in outlandish costumes, together with Jehovah’s Witnesses calling for repentance since the end of the world was nigh, and an ancient astronaut theorist who argued that Prime Minister Johnson and US President Trump were both members of an alien species that was attempting to take over the Earth. The demonstrators were good-natured, and the police was cheerfully protecting them from being hassled. This was Britain at its Greatest; quirky and eccentric as always.
Apparently this is the end of British democracy, and we noted that the Houses of Parliament is largely scaffolded, enabling it to be demolished without risk of debris hurting commuters.
Not that the Israel political scene is much better. In fact it was rather pleasant to have missed the Israel election due to the conference. It now remains to be seen how Johnson can manage to call an election and whether Netanyahu can avoid having to call a third one. Still, the UK has a Minister for IP, whereas the only political party in Israel that had an IP policy was the Pirate Party, which did not come close to crossing the electoral threshold.
Monday’s reception was held at the Victoria & Albert Museum, with a special Women in IP Cocktail Reception, enabling female IP professionals to view the fashion collection, which included Mary Quant and other iconic fashion designers. By claiming I was transitioning, I was let in and could gawp at the outlandish clothing fashions of yesteryear.
In the early Nineties, as an engineering student, I walked through the underpass from South Kensington, exiting opposite the V & A every day, and continuing round the corner to the Royal School of Mines. The student body was uniformally unisex, with Doc Marten shoes, denim jeans, a pullover and leather jacket. Students of the humanities had fashions, with punk, Goth, piercings, and other oddities. However, Imperial College, being dedicated to Science and Technology, wasn’t the place to see fashions and fads.
Despite spending four years studying in South Kensington, I confess to never having entered the Victoria and Albert museum until last week. The museum houses a wonderful collection of unique design and cultural objects rescued and conserved on behalf of the British public in Victorian times. At the end of the Second World War, the Monuments Men succeeded in rescuing and returning art stolen by Nazis. A generation earlier the Victorians seem to have got away with repurposing unique items from Burma, India, Europe and China.
So I was back minding the gap and standing clear of the doors.
For the whole week of the conference, the weather was wonderful; dry and pleasantly warm; what the Brits call an Indian Summer; so I thank the Indian IP Attorneys for bringing the weather with them. [Wasn’t that a great single sentence paragraph, replete with semi-colons? you can tell that I am a patent attorney!].
The conference tote was a metro-sexual handbag that was too small to collect brochures. I understand that some of your totes did not include a box of PCTea bags, and apologize for this. I sent the number of boxes that the organizers advised. Anyone who did not receive one, but wants a box should let me know. It is not the same as English tea with milk, but it does relieve the stress of last patent and trademark filings.
On reflection, this conference give-away wasn’t such a great idea, since some attendees apparently assumed that with a name like IP Fa©tor and the give-away, our I Boutique is a one-stop bucket shop for national filings around the world, or a purveyor of software for IP management or the like. This misconception was reinforced by the fact that very many of the companies that DO offer such services were being touted by conventioneers with Jewish sounding names and Israeli accents.
It wasn’t just IP Fa©tor whose give-away may have been less than effective. The conference bag contained the usual Abu Ghazaleh foldaway map that seemed just right for Islamic bombers to use to navigate around Londonistan. There was a Rubik Cube from Hungarian firm SBGK – which reminds one that the most recent Hungarian invention has been around for fifty years, so why file there? Indian firm Dewan gave away some very nice silk elephant hangings. this reminded me of the attempt by blind patent attorneys to describe the pachyderm. This is a cautionary tale I tell clients who point out that they can have applications drafted in India for prices that even I can’t match.
The exhibition area was spread over two floors and the upper floor was only reachable through the lower floor and many people missed it, leaving the exhibitors stranded up there to twiddle their thumbs. The organizers should perhaps have served the tea breaks on the sixth floor, and crammed all the exhibitors downstairs, so that anyone wanting a drink or biscuit would have to pass by the exhibitors to reach the refreshments.
The swag from the exhibitors was also disappointing. Lots of pens and USB wires for recharging mobile phones. WIPO were giving away some still-slightly-useful flash -memory sticks, but there are more convenient ways to transfer files. Patent Seekers had some cuddly clip on Welsh Dragons to remind people that they are based in Newport which, perhaps not coincidentally, is also the home of the UK Patent Office. MIP were giving away rubber duckies. I took both a pink and a blue, so am prepared for grandchildren.
Perhaps attributable to a caustic mix of global warming, smoking bans in restaurants and a despite-Brexit cultural cross-fertilization with the continent, there were tables and chairs on the pavements in front of restaurants and coffee shops, offering an Alfresco dining experience. This was unheard of 25 years ago.
Post offices seem to have all but disappeared, and have been replaced by post-office counters in supermarkets. In the Nineties, for convenience shopping, there were high street supermarkets, often run by members of the Patel clan. For emergencies after regular hours, there were Seven-Eleven stores. Now there are small local branches of Sainsbury, Tesco or Waitrose on many high-streets. They are open until midnight and on weekends, if not 24 hours a day. Branches of these chains used to be much larger stores with dedicated car-parks.
I walked across Hampstead Heath and a couple of parks, and enjoyed the rustle of the autumn leaves. Many things have changed. The two most common birds in London were the house sparrow and the feral pigeon. Both have become a rare sight. The decline in house sparrows has been variously attributed to to air pollution and to Plasmodium relict which causes avian malaria. The air seemed quite reasonable to me, but there is apparently legislation to all but ban diesel within the area bounded by the North and South Circular Roads.
There were a few pigeons outside the conference center. Trafalgar Square used to be full of thousands of pigeons, and one could buy bird feed and they would land on one’s arms and head. Walking through the square to attend the Roger and Withers reception at the Trafalgar Strand, I saw maybe a dozen. Feeding the birds is now banned and various means have been implemented to prevent their roosting. Harris Hawks are flown in the Square and on the Houses of Parliament to scare off the remaining birds. In the suburbs there has been an explosion of handsome magpies in their dinner-suits and tailcoats. More worrying however, were the flocks of ring-necked parakeets; an invasive species which was unknown in North London in the Nineties. I also saw a couple of urban foxes, which seem to ignore pedestrians at night.
Scooters were something that Mods rode in their epic battles with Rockers in the late Sixties and early Seventies. In the Nineties, it was Po, the shortest and youngest of the Teletubbies™ who rode a scooter. What goes around comes around, and pavements and parks are again scary due to gangs of teenagers on scooters, and the modern mods wearing business suits and crash helmets, riding electric scooters along the main roads.
I got the impression that the British have intentionally downplayed the enemy in recent films (translation for Americans: Movies). The King’s Speech, Dad’s Army, Their Finest Hour and Dunkirk are, nevertheless, all about quirky little Britain, managing against all odds.
There was a feeling of nostalgia in Leicester Square as well, with many revivals of old shows, and the Mousetrap and other very long running plays, still running. Unfortunately the stage show of the patent attorney’s favorite film, the Man in the White Suit; a 1951 satirical comedy film starring Alec Guinness, only opened after I’d left town.
There seems to be a natural evolution where films transition into plays. Plays become musicals, and musicals become dining experiences, with punters being immersed in a Fawlty Towers, Greek Island style Bistro Mama Mia or Wolf of Wall Street dinner show.
Some might consider Mama Mia a Swedish show, but the songwrite was Bjorn again as a Brit, and the story is about an English college graduate going on a Club Med holiday and sleeping around in an era predating AIDS. It was quintessentially British nostalgia for the music that dominated the UK charts in the Seventies.
With the Shekel high, Sterling low and readily available half-price tickets, I binged on plays. I saw both Henry V and Much Ado about Nothing at the Globe. At 5 quid for a professional production (an immersive experience standing in the pit), which is the price of two cups of tea, and about the cost of a pint of beer, one simply can’t go wrong. One can sit for 23 pounds, but with restricted view. To sit on a wooden bench in a good vantage point costs 40 pounds. Renting a seat-back to clip onto the bench costs a further 3 quid and a cushion 2 pounds more. So I stood. However standing makes one feel part of the action and not merely an observer.
I bought a couple of the cheapest tickets at the half-price ticket booth on Leicester Square, that normally sell for ₤25-30. However, on arrival at the theatres, the staff upgraded me to empty seats in the stalls that had a price-tag of ₤50-60. The Woman in Black is a classic ghost story with blackouts, slamming doors, torches and screams. It was good fun, despite having seen the film. I also saw a new play, “The Son” which was very good. However, it is not advised for parents of an adolescent with growing pains.
The final Saturday after the conference was designated a no-car day in central London. I’d like to see an Israeli mayor get away with that. It would bring down the government if there is one.
In addition to meeting and greeting you and 2500 other professional colleagues, I took the opportunity to meet up with old school friends, with cousins and other relatives. I feel recharged and raring to provide IP services.
Let’s keep in touch!