The Transfer Market – IP! A Look at Four Years of Key Market Moves

Having recently posted on the EUIPO and UPC we now turn our attention to analyze and assess lateral moves across the intellectual property market in London. I was also curious to see whether an article I wrote two years accurately predicted the rise of the full-service IP firm.

It has been no secret that patent attorney firms have been making a conscious effort to attract more private practice talent over the past few years. Arguably, this strategy was most successful back in 2014 with Carpmaels & Ransford taking Ian Kirby from Arnold & Porter, which at the time was a game changer across the intellectual property world and proved that moving to an attorney firm actually works and can be a real benefit to existing clients. This created a domino effect that we are still enjoying.

Digging deeper, lets discuss some key trends, notably in London; the common theme is that most hires by private practice law firms peaked in 2016 and 2020. Please find below a snapshot of hires over the last 4-year period. It is interesting to note that not only did seven of these hires happen by July 2020, which is the most hires in any year since 2016, nearly a third of all hires were made by US law firms.

Acquiring FirmPartnerHired fromMonth/Yr
FieldfisherDiana Sternfeld & teamRouseFeb-16
Jones Day Rebecca SwindellsFieldfisherMar-16
Browne JacobsonKathleen Fox MurphyTaylor WessingMar-16
Mishcon De ReyaDavid RoseKWMApr-16
CooleyColm MurphyVenner ShipleyMay-16
Allen & OveryDavid Stone, Marc Döring, Marjam Noor & Mark HeaneySimmons & SimmonsSep-16
Clifford ChanceStephen ReeseOlswangSep-16
Osborne ClarkeA Rajendra, R May, L Gulliver, M ForemanRouseFeb-17
Simmons & SimmonsMichael BurdonOlswangMay-17
BristowsSimon Clark, Ian Gruselle & team BCLPMay-17
Wilmer HaleJustin WattsFreshfieldsMay-17
Mills & ReeveSimon FryEversheds SutherlandSep-17
Simmons & SimmonsKevin CordinaCMSJan-18
Ashurst David Wilkinson Clyde & CoFeb-18
Field FisherJohn LinnekerDentonsFeb-18
Kirkland & EllisNicola DaggAllen & OveryMay-18
FreshfieldsChristopher Stothers & teamArnold & PorterJun-18
Quinn EmmanuelleAlexandrine AnanouBird & BirdJan-19
Powell GilbertPeter FitzpatrickHerbert Smith FreehillsJan-19
Powell GilbertHannah Smith-WillisFreshfieldsJan-19
BristowsAlex DenoonMarriott HarrisonFeb-19
WLG GowlingsHuw Evans & Jonathan BallNorton Rose FulbrightJun-19
Pinsent MasonsNicole JadejaFieldfisherSep-19
Arnold & PorterBeatriz San MartinFieldfisherOct-19
BristowsRichard DickinsonArnold & PorterJan-20
Wilmer HaleAnnsley WardBristowsFeb-20
Norton Rose Fulbright Paul JosephRPCMay-20
DLA PiperDeborah BouldPinsent MasonsMay-20
Morgan LewisNick Bolter & teamCooleyJun-20
Clyde & CoChris WilliamsBlake MorganJul-20
WigginCallum SmythBarclaysJul-20

You may have noticed from the selection above, arguably the biggest game changer was Kirkland & Ellis with what was at the time, a very unexpected announcement to build out their IP capability, especially as Allen and Overy hired the team from Simmons & Simmons and were making all the right noises about building their IP capabilities.

There is one move which could be seen as the first real response to attorney firms taking talent from private practice. This is the team move made by Osborne Clarke from Rouse (highlighted in bold)

Now let us see hires made by patent / trademark attorney firms, these hires include, but are not limited to:

Acquiring firmPartner(s)Hired fromMonth/Yr
HGFJonathan ThurgoodCarpmaels & RansfordFeb-16
D Young & CoAnthony CraggsWLG GowlingsDec-16
Venner Shipley Paul Harris & James TumbridgePillsburyMay-16
Osborne ClarkeWill JamesMarks & ClerkApr-19
HGFAlastair Da CostaDLA PiperJan-19
Mewburn & EllisKate O’Rourke Charles Russell SpeechlyApr-19
EIPKathleen Fox MurphyBrowne JacobsonJun-19
AA ThorntonDaniel Byrne Gide NoeulSep-19
AA ThorntonSimon SpinkBristowsSep-19
Potter ClarksonPeter Finnie & Fiona StevensGill Jennings & EveryJan-20
Hoffman EitleToby SimpsonMathys & SquireJan-20
JA KempIan MacLeodCarpmaels & RansfordJan-20
EIPGareth ProbertHGFFeb-20
EIPColin LobbanDysonFeb-20

Aside from the relatively barren years of 2017 & 2018, we have seen a significant increase in patent experts making the jump from private practice to patent / trademark attorney firms. We will talk about some of the reasons behind this in a future article, however it is the most notable trend we have seen in the Intellectual Property world.

Another trend worth noting is attorney firms hiring sole practitioners. The IP market is rife with individuals who have decided to start up on their own and operate under a consultancy banner. For whatever reason, these sole practitioners have been tempted back into attorney firms. It is interesting to note that they rarely move to a private practice law firm.

A sole practitioner will already have their own clients and obviously, no restrictions to work with these clients when they move, so surely this would be a no brainer for a private practice law firm? Yes, there is the integration point to consider and perhaps a loss in personal autonomy however this type of hire would be relatively risk free. It is somewhat surprising we have not seen too many moves of this nature. Perhaps the pricing differential between a consultant and law firm partner is too great!

Yes, Covid-19 has had an impact on recruitment plans for law firms, however, arguably IP is one area that is actually thriving during this global pandemic, especially across industries such as life sciences, pharmaceutical, biotech and of course, medical devices. It is business as usual as far as the IP world concerned.

Additionally, and slightly off topic as this article is focusing purely on hires within London, we have seen a rise in both private practice law firms and attorney firms adding to their bench strength in Germany and The Netherlands. We will speak about this when we look at European market trends, but it is interesting to note.

So, as you can see from the above, the attorney firms have been very active taking talent from competitors and beyond over the last few years. There are no signs that this will slow down, even during Covid-19 and because of the strategic hires attorney firms have made, they are well positioned to win and take work (and additional talent) from more established private practice offerings and become a true one stop shop for intellectual property matters, which was the prediction I made in my article from 2018.

It would be great to hear from you, do you think that attorney firms have been more successful than private practice law firms in hiring IP talent? Will this strategy start to tail off over the next couple of years? Will private practice firms retaliate? What trends have you seen? Please free to leave thoughts / comments below.

For the purpose of this article, we will focus purely on patent / trademark attorney and private practice hires. There will be a follow up discussion focusing on in-house moves in the intellectual property world. If you would like to receive further details of all the IP moves over the last 4 years, please feel free to get in touch: [email protected]