Earlier this summer a group of enthusiasts met in Room 6 of Olswang’s London office to discuss the potential uses of wikis within the field of intellectual property (IP). Some were committed to the wiki concept, others sceptical, the rest open-minded. The outcome was the Room 6 Initiative ”” a proposal to seek funding to kick-start an all-embracing wiki that would unite as many IP legal information resources as possible within a format that was current, accessible, user-friendly and free to use.
The idea of devoting a wiki ”” a collaborative website that can be directly edited by anyone who has access to it ”” to IP law is not new: Martin Farley’s IPDailyUpdate and David Pearce’s UKPatents have been in existence for some time. The “Room 6 Initiative” is, however, directed at a specific challenge: the provision of IP legal information at such a high level of accuracy and currency that it would effectively render redundant the costly and inconvenient reliance of the IP professions on paper-based information sources, using the savings made through the use of this all-embracing legal source as a means of underwriting the cost of updating and maintaining it.
At present, IP law in the United Kingdom is characterised by a tsunami of available information and a rapidly-changing statutory and regulatory framework for it. Constant amendments of, and additions to, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 have made the statute well-nigh non-navigable and there is currently no authoritative omnibus paper text. British practice is also governed by a wealth of materials that are not generated indigenously, such as the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the European Patent Convention, the Madrid Protocol and Madrid Agreement on international trade marks, the Hague Agreement on designs and the schemes for resolving top level domain name and .eu domain disputes, together with voluminous implementing regulations and official guidelines-resulting in office rulings and decisions of Boards of Appeal and courts.
In consequence, practitioners typically find that they have acquired numerous copies of the same statute or other material, some of which may be seriously out of date and none of which may be current. They may not even be aware that this is the case. Nor may they be aware that the provisions of European Union legislation on which they rely have been repealed and re-enacted in consolidated form after a succession of amendments have made them inconvenient to cite by name, apart from being hard to work with. The materials they have at hand generally lack hyperlinks or other references to subsequent case law and office decisions that may vitally effect their application. All problems of the practitioner are in reality problems of the client, who has to pay in the end.
The Room 6 Initiative seeks to work towards an integrated wiki that would contain the most current versions of all materials, which would be updated by the coordination of the efforts of volunteers drawn from the ranks of its users-principally information officers and lawyers drawn from the ranks of the large and middle-sized law firms that make the most demands on the existing system. This wiki would operate at four levels:
- at its core would be primary and secondary legislative materials ”” statutes, subordinate legislation, directives, regulations and international treaties;
- these core materials would be accompanied by links and/or references to legal judgments and office decisions relevant to them;
- a third tier would consist of links and/or references to articles, case notes and other published materials with bearing on the first two levels;
- individual comments would also be accommodated, this allowing for the possibility of developing discussion.
Since the accuracy and integrity of a wiki of this nature is essential, its content and operation would be monitored by a representative supervisory body. While access to the information contained within it, and the facility to make individual comments, would be available to all, the supervisory board would draft guidance for anyone wishing to make substantive amendments to the primary and secondary level information, and would also make provision for technical training for anyone wishing to amend the wiki but who was unsure as to how to go about it.
The Room 6 Initiative has now got as far as the drawing up of a draft application for funding. It is believed that, once the IP wiki has secured a critical mass of useful and current information, and that it has become well-enough publicised and used to play a respectable role in providing information both within the profession and outside it, it will gather sufficient momentum to grow and evolve without further external funding.
Jeremy Phillips is Intellectual Property Consultant, Olswang, a Research Director of the Intellectual Property Institute and co-founder of the IPKat weblog where news of the progress of the Room 6 Initiative will be posted.