Interview with Ian Muir - a retired partner at Haseltine Lake

30 July 2018

This year, Haseltine Lake is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the opening of its Munich office. With this in mind, we interviewed Ian Muir, a retired Partner of the firm, who was involved in setting up the firm’s Munich office. Ian has kindly agreed to share his experiences with us and give us a flavour of what it was like working for the firm back in those days:

When did you join Haseltine Lake and what did you specialise in?
With a degree in Electronics from UCL and after a brief spell in a Philips’ research lab, I joined the firm’s London office in 1961 as a trainee patent attorney. At the time it was HL’s only office, with just six partners, situated just opposite the British Patent office. I then moved on, only to return to Haseltine Lake thirteen years later.

So when did you open up the Munich office?
In 1978 the opportunity came up to re-join Haseltine Lake, to relocate to Munich and set up an office there.

What was it like working in the Munich office in those days?
I have great memories of that time. We were the only patent attorney firm based in Motorama House – a temporary home for the EPO that gave us a huge advantage. We developed good relationships with the early EPO staff and met regularly with them to discuss how they were planning to interpret some areas of the new law. As part of my role, I also gave talks to groups of new EPO examiners.

Initially, there were only two British firms in Munich, each being separately run by their own British patent attorney who was living in Munich full time. Other British firms at the time had established offices or links with German firms but only had British attorneys travelling out to Munich for short periods.

In the late ’70s, the Chinese were in the process of setting up the Chinese Patent Office. A Chinese CCPIT (China Council for Promotion of International Trade) delegation that included prospective patent examiners and prospective patent attorneys, visited the EPO. At the request of the EPO, Haseltine Lake were very involved in hosting the group. Following this, I was invited to Beijing to give talks on EU and British patent law to the delegated new patent examiners and the prospective patent attorneys.

Since then, Haseltine Lake has had extensive experience in China. The firm opened a representative office in Guangzhou in 2009 and is well connected throughout the region.

What clients did you work with?
I mainly worked for large company clients such as Ericsson Siemens, Toshiba, Fujitsu, Honda and Seiko but also worked with many overseas patent attorney firms.

Reflecting on your career, what has been the most interesting EPO case you worked on and why?
One of the most memorable EPO cases from those early days was the Rib-Loc case. The firm were representing a Hong Kong applicant at the Legal Board of Appeal. We had filed a European application based on instructions from an attorney firm in Australia but a secretary in that firm, in the instructions sent to us, omitted Germany from the list of contracting states the applicant wanted to be designated. When we reported the filing, this omission was noted and we were asked to correct the omission. Although there was a Rule 88 of the convention that allowed correction of mistakes, the EPO receiving section maintained this and did not allow adding a designated state. I was able to research the minutes for the working committee that had drafted Rule 88 and found a minute that related to the incorporation in the rule of exclusions from correction and this minute indicated that they had decided not to include correction of a designate state in the list of excluded corrections. It was very satisfying to be able to convince the Appeal Board on the basis of this minute that this sort of correction should be allowed under Rule 88. As a postscript, it is interesting to note that the EPO subsequently changed their procedures, so that it is now extremely difficult to omit the designation of a contracting state when filing an application.

What was so special about Haseltine Lake and how would you describe it?
It was a firm where all the partners were friends and you could ask anyone anything. I still keep in touch with a lot of my ex-colleagues and we meet from time to time…. I do hope that it’s still the same.

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