The Trans-Tasman IP Attorneys Board, the governing body for patent and trademark attorneys in Australia and New Zealand, issued a revised version of its code of conduct on 14 December. The code was last updated in 2013.
The revised code clarifies the right of attorneys to belong to “ownership groups” and reaffirms their duty to clients, which has been questioned by some listed firms.
Section 23 of the code states that: “A registered attorney may be a member of an ownership group”.
Craig Dower, the chief executive of listed entity Xenith IP Group, welcomed the revised code of conduct and said it appropriately acknowledged the status of listed IP firms such as Xenith, Qantm and IPH Holdings.
“The revised code of conduct updates industry practices and now reflects the actuality of listed firms operating in the IP sector, laying a sound foundation for the conduct of all patent and trademark attorneys for the foreseeable future,” Mr Dower said in a statement.
“The code provides sensible and practical provisions regarding operational independence, transparency and client confidentiality.
“We hope that this clear guidance will put an end to the unnecessary conjecture that has been circulating about the effect of structural changes in the IP sector.”
Section 19 of the code stipulates that a registered attorney must not prefer their own interests over the interests of a client. Much of the criticism of listed IP firms, and listed law firms, such as Slater and Gordon, has focused on the idea that their duty to shareholders conflicts with their duty to clients.
“The primacy of clients’ interests is fundamental to the operation of any IP firm, regardless of that firm’s capital structure,” Mr Dower said.
He also supported the code’s requirement that an attorney’s membership to an ownership group must be disclosed to the public, as must the identity of any other members of the group.
“We also welcome the code’s emphasis on transparency regarding ownership,” Mr Dower said.
“Xenith IP has been completely open about the ownership structure of its member entities, in no small part because of the substantial benefits we believe it brings to our clients and to our people.”
The revised code of conduct will come into effect on 23 February.