Wednesday 31 August 2022

The IPO's Welsh Language Policy

Author Diomedea Exulnns  Licence CC BY=SA 3.0  Soutce Wikimedia Nant Gwrtheyrn


Jane Lambert

Occasionally I am asked why I spend time and money on learning Welsh. After all, so the argument runs, only a few hundred thousand speak it and nearly all of them speak also English. The answer is the same as the reason for learning any language.  A language is the key to a treasure house of ideas and information not all of which are translated or translated well.

Ideas and information are intellectual assets  They take several forms: a line of verse, a catchy song,  an elegant solution to a technical problem or an unforgettable slogan.   They are the product of skill and labour and sometimes genius.   To incentivize their generation the law protects them.  It is that legal protection that we call intellectual property.

Ideas that are generated in Welsh can be protected in Welsh.  The Intellectual Property Office which is headquartered in Newport has operated a Welsh language scheme since 3 Oct 2007.  It was prepared in accordance with the guidelines of the Welsh Language Service pursuant to s.21 (3) of the Welsh Language Act 1993.

Paragraph 1 of that scheme promises "that, in the conduct of public business, it will treat the English and Welsh languages on a basis of equality so far as is both appropriate to the circumstances and reasonably practicable."  The document continues that, where possible, the IPO will explain and offer the IP system in Welsh to those customers wishing to register their IP rights in the United Kingdom through the medium of Welsh.  

Rule 14 (1) of the Patents Rules 2007 which came into effect on 17 Dec 2007, requires the contents of all documents contained in a patent application to be either Welsh or English However, while the English language patent forms are available online, Welsh speaking applicants or their agents must call 01633 814936 or email if they require a Welsh version of any of the IPO's forms/booklets.  According to David Pearce, no patent applications in Welsh had been received by the Office by 28 Jan 2008 (see Welsh patent applications: the results are in! 28 Jan 2008 IPKat).

There is no equivalent to rule 14 (1) of the Patents Rules 2007 in The Registered Designs Rules 2006 or The Trade Marks Rules 2008 but para 49 of the scheme offers to accept applications for registered designs and trade marks in Welsh and to make the relevant forms and guidance available in Welsh on the IPO's website.  As far as I can see, applicants or their agents would have to call the above number or send an email to request the relevant form or other document in Welsh.

It would appear from para 34 of the scheme that proceedings before IPO hearing officers can take place in Welsh.  The paragraph states that if the hearing takes place in Wales, it can be conducted in Welsh in the Newport Office where arranged in advance. If, however, no advance notice is given then due to limitations on the number of Welsh speaking staff and the lack of an in-house interpreter, there may be no legally and technically competent Welsh speaker immediately available. The applicant will then be given the choice, without prejudice, of continuing with the hearing in English or adjourning it until a Welsh speaker is available.

The rest of the document deals with such matters as signage, telephone calls, visits from members of the public, seminars and publications. I owe it to the IPO for my first lesson on soft mutations while driving around Newport searching for signs to Concept House when I noticed that "patent" had suddenly morphed into "batent".

I do not know whether any of the Appointed Persons speak Welsh but the Business and Property Courts in Wales ought to be able to hear appeals from Welsh speaking hearing officers in Welsh as well as infringement, invalidity, revocation and threats actions in all areas of IP law except patents, registered designs, chip topographies and plant varieties. The Court of Appeal and Supreme Court have been known to sit in Cardiff and there is at least one Welsh speaking Supreme Court justice.

My Welsh is not yet good enough to present a case in Welsh, but once it is ............ Anyone wishing to discuss this article may call me on +44 (0)7404 5252 during office hours or send me a message through my contact page.