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The Importance of Affiliation to Professional Bodies

By Maggie Ramage
Posted: 28th November 2014 08:45
I have been active in the field of trade marks since 1982, and am a past President of the UK Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys.  I still sit on the governing Council of ITMA.  This means that I can look inside a membership professional association and can see things both from the inside looking out, as well as from the outside looking in.
There are clear benefits to affiliation with a professional body, as basically, professional bodies are set up to maintain and legitimise standards of training and ethics; they protect both the professional practitioner, and also clients.  Clearly, practitioners will benefit from the continuous development and training which is afforded by most professional associations and there are spin-offs, such as good networking opportunities.
Most countries have their own body for IP professionals, and the equivalent membership associations in The Benelux, Germany and France, for example, are respectively BMM, GRUR and APRAM.  These are the professional bodies for practitioners working and qualified in those particular countries.  However, there are other bodies to consider such as groups which are related to the pharmaceuticals industry, for instance; PTMG (Pharmaceuticals Trade Mark Group); MARQUES, which was set up to serve the interests of trade mark owners; UNION, which looks at both patent and trade mark issues; ECTA (the European Communities Trade Mark Association); and also INTA (the International Trade Mark Association).  CIPA in the UK is our sister organisation, and is the membership association for patent attorneys in the UK.  These are by way of example - there are many other such associations.
Affiliation to the right professional body or bodies will bring clear benefits to the practitioner.
The main reasons why you should consider affiliating with a professional membership association are as follows:-
Qualification and education
Trainee trade mark attorneys, by affiliation to a professional body - such as ITMA in the UK - can attend tutorials and seminars, and acquire general training to help them to pass their qualifying examinations and to enter onto the official Register.  For non-country specific professional organisations - such as INTA or ECTA - students can gain a great deal of knowledge when under training by attending education events run by these entities.
Continuing professional development
CPD is an essential part of most qualified trade mark practitioners’ lives.  They need to be able to constantly build on their knowledge and keep up to date with developments, and most professional bodies are well placed to provide on-going updating of procedures and practice and the law.
Access to global advice
Most professional legal associations have links with equivalent organisations, such as national Trade Marks Registries, the European Registry (OHIM), and membership concerns, such as ECTA and INTA.  They also have strong links with WIPO, and other professional associations.  This means that all associations stay up to date with global changes in law and practice, they usually have their own dialogue between associations, and most membership legal associations strive to keep a high level of involvement with governing bodies and regulators worldwide.  This means that practitioners can keep up with the constant changes in law and practice, and can stay ahead of the game, so they can advise their clients sensibly.
Respected code of practice
In the UK, ITMA has a code of practice which promotes just and honourable practices in the conduct of the trade marks profession.  Qualified members are generally also regulated by the Intellectual Property Regulatory Board, and members of ITMA are encouraged to lobby changes in trade mark registration - and other IP issues - to ensure that changes meet the needs of the consumer.  This also provides an ethical and legal mainframe to operate within.  Clients have the peace of mind of knowing that their practitioners, who are members of such organisations, are bang up to date with current developments in the intellectual property world.
Raising industry awareness
The public and the business communities are becoming far more aware now of the power of intangible assets, such as trade mark rights.  I believe that most membership associations can see this as a relatively recent development, and encourage practitioners to understand this and to advise on the value of trade mark rights.  This links back to the code of practice which is run by most professional associations, so that clients know that their professional advisers are up to date.
Worldwide networking
This is absolutely essential, and the benefits of this cannot be overestimated.  ITMA and other membership organisations foster global networking and social opportunities through social programmes, events and educational conferences and seminars.  INTA is particularly successful in this regard, and indeed, people make friends with their associates and colleagues on a worldwide basis.  There is no other venue, in my view, which is so successful in bringing together practitioners from every country in one place.  In the UK, ITMA also encourage links with the UK Bar, so that we know our own practising barristers, and they know who we are as well.
Socially, membership of any professional organisation is an invaluable way to get to know the profession of a particular country - as well as others - and other practitioners who work in the specific area of intellectual property.  It is invaluable if an adviser is conflicted out on a case, as the practitioner will have a good idea of an alternative adviser, often required at speed in contentious issues.  Knowing your counterpart on the other side in a conflict case is invaluable.  If you know who you are dealing with, you can often get results for the client far more quickly, and more cost-effectively.
Up to date news and information services
Most professional bodies offer access to Website updates and regular publications, including monthly newsletters, leaflets, case details and fact sheets relating to changes in the law in the intellectual property world.  They also have a presence on social media, so updates are brought to the practitioners speedily by computer, laptop, tablet or phone.  Without being a member of professional membership associations I think it would be very difficult to keep ahead of changes and developments, of which there are very many at present in the world of trade marks.
Maggie Ramage
Past President of ITMA
Alexander Ramage Associates LLP

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