I was working in commercial law which included a small element of intellectual property. I found it so engaging that I decided to make it my speciality, joining Keltie in 2000. It was an exciting time to join the firm as we were starting to really kick on with our practice areas and client base, and being heavily involved in helping to define and build the business we have today was hugely rewarding. The atmosphere was totally different - David Keltie was something of a maverick in the industry in terms of his approach to building the firm and developing the culture which would define us, and it was brilliant to be a part of.
One of the things I find most enjoyable about a career in intellectual property is that our clients are creative people. As an IP lawyer, you help creative people capitalise upon their intellectual creations so you are naturally working with people who design and invent things, which is hugely stimulating. The way we work with clients means we like to get involved in the creation process from the start such that we have an input and an impact on the end product itself. By working with clients in the earliest stages of their creations means we understand them implicitly and for example, can advise on choosing the best trade mark which offers the maximum protection from the very beginning. We like to work as an extension of the client’s team and doing so means we take real pride in our work and inject the same amount of passion as if the invention was our own. I have never heard anyone say they regret building a career in intellectual property - I certainly do not.
Similar to other sectors, we work with our sports clients on brand protection in a broad sense from the outset of a project where we assist with selecting a trade mark through to enforcement, licensing and co-existence agreements.
Something which we develop as IP attorneys having worked in a specialist sector for a number of years is a sensitivity for the industry, its commercial priorities and its outlook on certain matters. This in turn impacts our work as our approach to client work and problem solving changes in line with our familiarity and awareness of nuances and ‘ways of working’. The legal aspects of our work do not change, but you develop an understanding of how different elements impact different clients having been embedded within a sector for a number of years. This is particularly the case within licensing agreements in sport.
Our long-standing relationships with clients means we know certain sporting circles well enough that we are able to use diplomacy and knowledge to reach a solution in the event of a dispute, rather than having to resort to more formal measures. Here, we add real value for our sporting clients as most often, our inside knowledge of the field means any issues can be resolved quickly and effectively.
Intellectual property work within sport typically involves brands and design. The work we undertake for our clients in the sector is the same as in others in the following aspects. First, we conduct worldwide clearance searches to ensure that a client’s proposed logo or brand does not infringe any pre-existing marks and ensures they have the freedom to operate in their desired space. Secondly, as part of our filing and application processes, we identify and formalise the scope of protection required to give the client the maximum protection possible. This is particularly key if the client wishes to license use of their mark to third parties as we must clearly define the usage rights from the outset to ensure it is used clearly and fairly. Thirdly, we enforce against third parties who infringe and take unfair advantage by contravening our clients’ registered rights. The balance of our work leans more to the protection elements than enforcement, and where necessary we will engage the service of specialist litigators. Finally, we work with clients on the particulars of licensing agreements if they want to allow other parties to leverage their brand or mark.
We are also heavily involved in the drafting of brand adoption, best practice and guideline documents which illustrate how a mark or identity must be used and worked with. This is a key aspect as we aim to maintain the protection we have acquired. Another aspect of our sports practice is ensuring that if a mark is used in comparative advertising - and a client wishes to refer to the mark of a third party - it is done in such a way that no infringement occurs.
I have built close personal relationships with my clients and have been lucky enough to experience some of sport’s most iconic moments. The Miracle at Medinah would be a personal highlight and having been invited by a client on a personal level, rather than a client-attorney connection meant a great deal. This demonstrates the way that we operate at Keltie. We build bonds with our clients that extend beyond the work we do for them. We care deeply about them and their innovations.
Being passionate about sports outside of work certainly makes a difference, but the emotional connections we have with our clients in the sector really stand out, many of whom we have been working with for over twenty years. The fact that they often refer Keltie to others in their space speaks volumes and we are proud that our reputation allows us to grow based upon the work we have done previously.