Thursday, 23 October 2008

Freedom to waste money

Yesterday, I commented on Letters From A Tory that:
When taxes go up, the public services that we use never seem to get any better and all we see are more diversity consultants (etc), but if anyone suggests that taxes be reduced, then Labour cries that it is inevitable that the axe will fall on front-line police, nurses, MRI scanners and so on.

Well, it has taken me until this morning to see an example of pointless Government waste. Now, it's only a little one, but it betrays an attitude. It's one that came to my attention through my work, so prepare yourself for the dry dull world of intellectual property....

First, take a look at this trade mark registration: "Freedom of information", plus a logo. This was filed on 19 June 2004.

Next, take a look at this one: "Rhyddid Gwybodaeth" plus the same logo. I'm assuming this is Welsh for "Freedom of Information". Please correct me if it isn't. Anyway, this was filed a few weeks later, on 12 July 2004.

Then, have a look at this one, for both phrases and the same logo, also filed on 12 July 2004.

I shall leave aside entirely the question as to whether arms of government should be applying for trade marks at all. That is a different question, and one where there is scope for argument. However, if we accept (for now) the thesis that they can and they should, I think we can take it as a given that they should do so in an efficient manner.

Now, all three applications were filed by "Peter H Rimmer, Independent Communications and Marketing Consultant" on behalf of the Department for Constitutional Affairs. So far as I can tell, Mr Rimmer is not qualified as a trade mark agent. In fact, Mr Rimmer doesn't seem to know the first thing about trade mark procedure (alternatively, he is a crook; I suspect the former, though). The reason is that UK law allows trade mark applications to be filed as a "series" of marks, provided the marks in the series do not differ in their material particulars (Section 41 of the Trade Marks Act 1994). This means that all three marks could have been included within a single trade mark application. Or, to put it another way, Mr Rimmer's charges for this exercise were three times what they needed to be. (I don't know if he personally made a charge for each application, but there will have been a £200 fee per application levied by the Patent Office.)

Now, it is pretty clear to me what happened, based on past experience of clients. The DCA no doubt asked him to register the first mark, then subsequently realised that NuLab's crusade of pointless political correctness required them to have a version in Welsh as well - so asked him to do that one too. You can't add trade marks to an application after filing, so the DCA's administrative cockup is the first contribution to the waste.

Now, a professional trade mark agent (such as yours truly) who both knows the law and acts ethically within the rules of ITMA (the professional body for people qualified in this field) would have asked them whether they really wanted to register the Welsh version as well. Quite simply, sections 10(2) and 46(2) of the 1994 Act provides that registrations also cover the use of similar marks, so registering the same mark in Welsh as well as English adds nothing useful. I don't know whether Mr Rimmer pointed this out to the DCA, but if he didn't do so then he should have done.

If he did, but the DCA decided to go ahead, then they are willfully wasting our money. If he knew about the point but didn't say, then he is deliberately overcharging. If he didn't know, then his incompetence has cost us £400 plus any charges he levied on the DCA.

Then there is the fact that two applications were filed on 12 July 2004. Whatever the DCA did or did not do, these applications could have been filed as one thereby halving the cost (and possibly halving any fees charged by Mr Rimmer).

However you slice this, and whatever Mr Rimmer's charging structure, the cost of this exercise was three times what it needed to be, thanks to the DCA and Mr Rimmer. Multiply that up across Government, and there is scope for spending cuts.


  1. There is only way to avoid this kind of lunacy and incompetence causing you stress.
    You yourself gave me the idea with the just a minute revision.

    Now all you need to remember is whatever the Prime Minister or hospital administrator or Home Secretary or shadow chancellor may say, they mean the exact opposite.
    Then their words and deeds make a lot more sense.

    "We are worst placed country with the highest level of personal debt in the G8"

    "Hospital cleanliness is not really a concern for us"

    "Knife crime is rising at an alarming rate and all the measures we are taking won't achieve much"

    "I thought "he's got loads of cash. He may stump a few quid..lets sound him out"

  2. Glad to have inspired you, BQ!

    You forgot one, though:

    "An entirely new kind of boom and bust"