Friday, 31 October 2008

Real Multiculturalism

I'm very glad to see that at least one member of the High Wycombe Muslim population has integrated herself properly into British society. She has evidently studied our ways carefully, and adopted our way of life as her own.

While I was driving through Wycombe this evening, she chose to pull out onto a roundabout directly in front of me, despite having had a clear view of my approach. I naturally screeched to a halt. Through her driver's window, I quite clearly saw the burka-clad lady lift her hand from the steering wheel to display the traditional British two-fingered salute. What more British way could there be to apologise for obstructing my path, and express her gratitude for my exercise of due care and attention in not ramming the side of her car, for not injuring the young children that could just be seen peeking over the window sills and learning Britishness from their (presumably) mother's example.

Does it not make a perfect picture of 21st century Britain? Two fingers stuck up in front of a burka?

Get yourself a good lawyer

Time for a serious post.

I am helping in a piece of trade mark litigation at the moment, which I will not identify for obvious reasons. Suffice to say that my client's mark is registered, has been for decades, has been in continuous use for all that time and is well known in the trade concerned. The other party is using an identical trade mark on identical goods. Ask any trade mark professional; intellectual property disputes don't get much more clear-cut than this one.

Anyway, the usual has happened; the infringer stuck his head in the sand and hoped we'd go away. We didn't; we trotted down the Strand and brought proceedings. So he went off to get himself a good lawyer.

Now, I don't know how the conversations with the lawyers he sounded out went, and nor should I. All I do know is that a defence and counterclaim was filed that contained a number of different grounds on which it was asserted that our client's claim should fail. These each fell into one of two different categories; (a) hopeless, and (b) untruthful. We have spent the time since then picking them off one by one, and should (all being well) get judgement in a month or so. Meanwhile, the infringer's firm has been placed in liquidation with large debts to its trade creditors. Whether the legal bills pushed him over the edge into liquidation is a matter for speculation; the debts of the company are substantially more than the legal costs involved, so I surmise that we were not the principal cause.

What his lawyers have done is to take £10-15k off him in return for making our life more difficult and delaying judgement by perhaps 5 months. The result of this is that the costs bill which will land on his (personal) lap will be £20k instead of £5k.

Now, if he or his lawyers had responded to our repeated offers of settlement, and used some of that £10-k to compensate my client, all of this would have gone away and he would have been at least £15k better off at the end. But that would not have benefited his lawyers to the same degree, the same lawyers who advised him on whether there were any good defences to the action.

This is not the first time that I have seen this. What is worse, those with experience in IP law know which firms are most prone to it; they know, when they see a defence being served under cover of certain letterheads, that the case is about to get more irritating. Note: not more difficult, but more irritating. What I think is going on is that the client will go round the local lawyers seeking advice; maybe 9 will say "No hope, try to settle it" but the tenth will say "No worries, there are plenty of defences you can bring". Then, to the lay client, the tenth sounds like a good lawyer who can think laterally and use the law to the client's advantage. The other 9 sound uninspiring and lazy.

This arises from the concept that we have developed of "A Good Lawyer" as someone who can, for a fee, get you off anything. There is a belief that the law is so complex and (basically) unfair that it is capable of manipulation by the right hands to achieve any desired result. The belief is that litigation is (essentially) won by force of arms and that the most expensive lawyer will win.

This is simply not true. I agree that at the margins, there are legal issues which are complex. I also agree that a good lawyer is a valuable asset. I especially agree that a competent lawyer will run rings round an incompetent one. But if you go into litigation believing only in your lawyer, not in the merits of your case, then prepare to lose your shirt.

Especially if I'm on the other side ;-)

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Monday, 27 October 2008

Vote SNP - Save a life!

This was the view from my driveway this morning, as I set off for work on the first Monday after the clocks changed.
Bright, isn't it!

Of course, it had been bright enough to drive for about an hour previously, and it will be dark when I drive home. So I get to drive to work, bright and alert, in the light. I get to drive home, tired and rather less alert, in the dark. This is self-evidently silly, and I read reports over the weekend that estimates of the effect of this run to hundreds of lives, or about 10% of all road deaths.

We are told that we have to keep to the current system for the benefit of farmers and Scots. Now, pleading the plight of a farmer is silly. The clock by which London businessess run their day is irrelevant to a cow. What does Daisy care whether the clock says 6am or 7am when she is milked? All she knows is that it is sunrise.

As for the Scots, it is pointed out that sticking to British Summer Time all year round would mean that in parts of Scotland, sunrise would sometimes be at 10am. I can understand that being a problem. I wouldn't like that. But isn't this why we have devolution? So that where there is a wide difference of opinion, we can each go our own way? An independent Scotland could make its own mind up whether it preferred sunrise at 9am or 10am, and whether this was better enough to justify an hour's difference with the rest of the UK.
So, on balance, I'm coming to the view that Scotland should have its independence. It is a purely incidental benefit that we could rule out Scots from participation in the English (, Welsh & N. Irish?) Parliament and Cabinet...

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Another small step?

My local bobbies are thinking about a new uniform.

It consists of a black shirt, "combat style" trousers, and a black baseball cap. There are some pictures in the local paper, and they basically look like riot police, or a paramilitary force of some sort. My immediate reactionwas that it would go nicely with a big black stick and a stern frown.

This is, I think, very sad. It is a recognition of the divide that now exists between police officers and members of the public. It will look as if officers are working on the assumption that anyone they meet will need to be apprehended, forcefully. An officer's uniform is currently (essentially) an ordinary pair of trousers, and ordinary shirt, and a tie. Yes, a stab vest is added on top together with various bits of kit, but they are essentially wearing the same type of clothes as a (respectable) member of the public. Now, they want to look like a militaristic force.

There are already plenty of signs that we are moving towards (or are already) a surveillance state. This feels like another small step into a police state, frankly.

Bad losers....

It seems that the French are having a meeting of historians at which they're going to accuse us of war crimes and cheating at Agincourt. Apparently, the reason they lost wasn't at all due to it being a meeting of excellent troops led by visionary tacticians meeting a bunch of garlic-smelling cheese-eating surrender monkeys. :o)

Also, it seems that we were quite nasty to them on the battlefield, and probably caused their soldiers a lot of pain and suffering. Gosh - anyone might think we were at war with them at the time, or that it was, like, the Middle Ages or something.

I might be inclined to give all this some credence, except that:
no English academics have been invited to today's conference in France

together with the small point that they've had 593 years to think up a good explanation and this is the best they can manage. So, maybe not, then.

Admit it. You were panned. Now stop whinging and get on with something more useful.

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.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Friday, 17 October 2008

Ah! My point exactly!

It's always nice when someone agrees with you. Especially when they're at the Spectator Coffee House, which has just posted an article pointing out that if Brown had not taken so much in tax, we'd all be better able to cope with the crunch.

I've pointed out before that my share of the Brown tax rises is (roughly) enough to pay off my mortgage. So had it not been for Brown, I would not need one penny of borrowing today. Now, not everyone is in that position (I've been very reluctant to borrow the huge sums that have been offered to me, for reasons which have turned out to be right) but had that money not been taxed and wasted, we'd all be in a more stable position now.

And on a final thought; £57 billion is indeed a lot of money ... but is also close to an eery multiple of the 60 million who live here. Which would work best; giving the banks close to £60 billion to shore up their balance sheets, or giving every man woman and child in the country a grand to, err, put in the bank?

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Just a Today Minute

I have an hour or so's drive to and from work each day, during which time Radio 4 is my default listening. In the morning, that does of course mean the Today programme.

It used to irritate me, for the usual and obvious reasons - primarily the old chestnut that the Today programme never saw a problem that could not be solved by throwing Government money at it. But I've found a way round this.

Usually, there will be an interview with a New Labourite. All you have to do is apply the rules of Just a Minute, with minor adjustments. Nicholas Parsons adjudicates as to whether a panellist has displayed hesitation, deviation or repitition; I listen to the Minister for the Day to see whether s/he is displaying obfuscation, avoidance of the question, or simple downright untruthfulness. If I should detect any, I get to press the buzzer which, in my car, is the "iPod" button.

It's much more fun than listening to their usual drivel. I just wish that one day, one of them would manage a whole minute.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Whether to be a Magistrate

I asked the question earlier as to whether I should be a Magistrate. I was concerned that the fact that I disagreed with such a large proportion of the current approach to criminal justice might make it a futile effort. You all urged me to go for it anyway and be an agent for change from within.

I've decided not to apply, though. Sorry.

I'm just looking at the Courts page of my local rag, reporting the last few weeks at the Mags Court. We have:

16 people done for lack of proper vehicle excise duty. Fines vary up to £350, plus an order to pay back tax of between £10 and £105.

Then we have a bloke who was done for:
  • failed to comply with a community order
  • failed to surrender for bail
  • four (4) separate counts of theft

After a complete day in court devoted to him alone, this bloke was given several prison sentences of six weeks each .... but all were suspended. So, in other words, nothing. Yes, I know that if he does anything else then he should go to prison, but he's already breached a community order and his bail terms and nothing has been done about it. So exactly why should I have any faith that if he breaches the terms of the suspended sentences then anything will happen?? Anyway, a suspended sentence is meant to be for people who are thought unlikely to offend again, but he has been found guilty of four separate burglaries and already has a criminal record!

Others with just one count of theft also get a suspended sentence or a community order which (as seen above) need not be complied with. Threatening behaviour gets you an £85 fine; criminal damage weighs in at £250 plus compensation.

Then we get the drivers; between them they have, it seems, been ignoring closed lanes and driving without a licence. They get fined (between £60 and £230) and required to pay costs. Points are given out. Now the speeders. Various infringements of 30 limits get fines of £295, £120, £330, £100, £130 and £60. Being uninsured gets you a fine of a £525 fine. Finally, a drunk driver gets a £130 fine and an 18 month ban.

Now, there is a clear pattern here. Break a motoring rule, and the law will be applied to you; especially if (horror of horrors) your offence involves denying revenue to the Government. However, ruin people's lives through theft and nothing is done. You walk free, with only an instruction not to do it again.

I want nothing to do with that system. If I felt that the system was merely flawed, then it would be worth working within it to do the best I could. But this is totally topsy-turvy. Motoring offences are subjected to the full weight of the law, and given sentences which are (probably) fair. Anything more serious, though, is just let off.

And that would drive me mad.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Autumn

Is a beautiful month. Hughenden manor:






I quite envy Disraeli, sometimes.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Don't try this at home pt2

I commented earlier that I had worked out how much my share was of the £100bn that Gordon Brown had (allegedly) wasted. I've just re-done the calculations based on the trillion quid of extra taxes said to have been raised by Gordon over the 11 years of Labour rule.

When I reached a figure I was certain of, I had to sit down. Even without interest, it was roughly the same as my outstanding mortgage. And breathe...

Frankly, it highlights everything Cameron is saying about Gordon's mismanagement. Never mind failing to mend the roof; if Gordon had left that money in my hands then I would not now need one single pound of credit in order to live. Multiply that by everyone else, and think how much better our financial prospects would look. OK, there might be fewer social workers and diversity co-ordinators, but (on balance) I think I'd benefit more from having no mortgage than from knowing that my Council's diversity balance is fully and properly co-ordinated.

I really must stop doing this, preferably before I get an ulcer.