25 February 2012

Equality and Diversity in IP

In January, the IPO in the United Kingdom issued its Equality and Diversity report. I am as white and as middle class as could be but as I find myself as a minority in other respects this may explain why I find this subject particularly interesting (notwithstanding that we should all have a commitment towards it).

The IPO here has a staff of 903, comparable to roughly 1000 at OHIM, nothing compared to the thousands employed at the EPO, but 10 times that of the IP Office of Kosovo which has just 9 employees (and 3 of them are part-time!). 

The UK is a diverse country. The years following the Second World War saw an influx of people from the likes of India, Pakistan and the Caribbean and our membership of the European Union has seen many other Europeans enjoy the freedom of movement to reside here. There are also well established Chinese communities.

Ethnicity at the IPO reflects Newport's demographic profile. When it comes to religion, the response rate is too low in number to be truly representative, and this does not match the picture of Newport as a whole. Saying this, scientists are known to be less God-fearing than others so could we come to a fair conclusion that most Patent Examiners are atheists?

A response rate of only 15% makes the voluntary questionnaire sent out fairly worthless but with sexual orientation figures there is nothing to go against as this information is not sought in a census in the UK. Any other data sources are unreliable as sexual orientation is still something many do not wish to disclose.

Maybe my own experiences are not truly representative, although they stretch over 15 years and have taken in three countries, but I have found many women working in the trade marks field. This is not reflected in the IPO's gender statistics. It might be the more "masculine" patents that diverts the data towards a marginal male minority?

It is noticeable that men occupy the senior positions and this reflects my experiences where, for example, the partners in law firms have been in the majority men. Equality is still a "work in progress" when it comes to the sexes so this is not surprising and some women will still be pulled (much more than men) towards a traditional role as a stay-at-home parent or to combining motherhood with a part-time role, which may restrict their career development. However, I think the figure of "over 90% of staff return to work after maternity leave" is commendable.

In general, the IPO provides good career opportunities to the Newport area and continues to improve having not sat on its laurels since being awarded Investors in People status in 1998. The excellent and timely services that the IPO provides gives it an excellent reputation and, in my view, make it one of the best Intellectual Property Offices in the world.