The IP profession can often prove to be stressful.
Long days, complex legal issues, client-based challenges, and working to strict deadlines can often take its toll on the mental health of attorneys and support staff in this environment.
As methodical people who aim to find specific solutions to complex issues, it can be hard to accept when you are faced with a problem which simply can’t be fixed with logic.
This often results in individuals becoming insular and suffering with issues such as anxiety, stress, and depression privately.
At Wynne Jones IP, we recognise that it can be hard to open up about the private battles you may be facing and discuss your inner thoughts.
But just remember – you’re not alone.
In the spirit of supporting our peers in the IP profession, we recently held a very successful Mental Health Awareness Week event in conjunction with IP Inclusive and the IPO which we fittingly titled: Get Off That Hamster Wheel! Perspectives on stress management for a better work/life balance.
The session, held on May 11 addressed the stigmas and common misconceptions surrounding mental health issues.
We welcomed a host of prestigious speakers on the day, who all spoke out about the importance of supporting those with mental health concerns, and recognising it to help alter attitudes in the workplace.
Tim Moss, Chief Executive Officer and Controller General of the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO), opened the talk with an insightful comment about how far the profession has progressed in openly discussing mental health.
As often recognised, IP attorneys can bottle up the stresses associated with the job for fear of seeming ineffective in their roles, weak, or simply a failure.
Thanks to events like this, it encourages people not to suffer in silence, but to open up to their colleagues about their daily struggles, and to accept their mental illness for what it is – an illness, which attorneys should receive support to cope with in a stigma-free environment.
Addressing the importance of protecting mental health and changing perceptions of mental illness, IP Inclusive leader Andrea Brewster, said “mental health doesn’t have to be a life sentence”.
“And it certainly isn’t a sign of failure,” she added.
She highlighted the detrimental impact of taking a hard stance on mental health, claiming that it could cost us some of our most talented people. She also stressed the importance of putting in place safeguards to protect both the physical and mental health of staff.
Her enlightening talk led us into a popular Wynne Jones IP pastime – the Snowball Shareback.
Those taking part had to share words they associated with mental health – and the results were surprising.
Loneliness, misunderstood, worry, weakness, struggle, and fear were among the words used, which gave a sense of the concern among attorneys surrounding mental health issues.
And they are not alone in those feelings.
Nine out of 10 people with mental health problems still feel they experience isolation and discrimination, speaker Ewan Hilton of Welsh mental health and wellbeing charity Gofal said.
During his talk with the group he highlighted some of the worrying statistics surrounding mental health perceptions in Wales.
He said 25% of Welsh people would not let someone with mental health issues look after children, the same percentage do not think you should be allowed to work in the Welsh Assembly, and 10% think you should not have children.
But thankfully, Ewan and Gofal are working tirelessly to change perceptions and lobby to improve mental health, encouraging people to embrace work, not shy away from it.
In promoting change in the workplace he added that: “A happy, motivated workplace is a healthy workplace.”
Lesley Evans, Sustainability Manager at the Intellectual Property Office , and Jim Houlihan, Deputy Director at the Intellectual Property Office couldn’t agree more.
They stressed that the mental wellbeing of those in the IP profession is always a consideration, due to the demanding nature of the job.
They offered tips to the attendees including aligning your mental and physical wellbeing to create more balance in your life and spoke about the IPO’s commitment to the Time 2 Change campaign. For information on Time 2 Change: https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/.
They urged attendees to consider eating a more balanced diet, exercising, and even treating themselves to a massage to help improve their mental health outside of the office.
At the end of the day – we all know IP can be a demanding profession which can prove to be stressful, at times demanding, and frustrating.
But if this informative session has taught us anything, it is that you are not alone. No-one needs to suffer in silence.
Make Your Pledge
At the end of the event, everyone was invited to make a pledge on one thing that they would do differently going forward to have a healthier work/life balance. Pledges included:
- I will stop working at a fixed time and actually switch off my PC (and my phone) (and my tablet)
- Make more of an effort to ask all staff members how they are
- Share my experiences for this session with colleagues and keep on leaving my door open
- If a colleague appears stressed or worried about something, make more of an effort to ask how they are. Perhaps also suggest going for a walk outside at lunch time to take a break away from the desk or a stressful case!
- Know when to ask for help and not see it as a weakness
- Ask and listen to responses not just pay lip service
- Talk about my own experiences with managing depression
- Be more open/talk to colleagues when I am stressed
- Spend more time off my computer during my lunch break
- Stop working and checking email when I’m supposed to be off work
- Get outside at lunchtime
- Make more time for exercise and relaxing activities, even if I don’t feel I have the time
- Leave on time more often
- Remembering that I do not live in the office! It is not my home
- Check up on people more regularly
- Switch my work emails off whilst I’m at home in the evening
- Ask other people how they are doing and how they are coping with work loads
- Make someone laugh in the workplace J
- Talk about the time to change campaign with the partners and get the firm signed up
- Exercise more
- Measure the wellbeing of my team (starting with how are you?)
- Ask people how they are and listen
- Ask people how they are more often and really listen to the answer
- Ask people how they are and listen to any problems. Try to spot any changes in character
- Think something that may make you happy and plan for it asap
- Asking people ‘how are you?’ more often
What will your pledge be?
For those of you who may be feeling overwhelmed, Here’s some top tips on improving the mental health of your colleagues and yourself in the work place.
- Always speak up
Bottling up any mental health worries could lead to serious mental or physical health which could seriously impact your life. Always share any concerns or troubling thoughts you have at the earliest possible opportunity. By discussing mental health as part of this initiative it helps to eradicate negative views and supports people in speaking out.
- Failure isn’t the end of the world
As IP attorneys you are taught to identify and minimise risk and find the specific solution to a problem. As such, failure can feel overwhelming. Recognising that failure is a normal part of everyday life that everyone experiences is a step in the right direction.
- Putting you first
Getting help as early as possible is absolutely vital. Addressing any mental health issues before they multiply and balloon can help to minimise any long-term damage. Recognise the signs, if you are feeling overly exhausted or responding out of character, make sure to sit down and address this with someone you feel comfortable with.
- Office responsibility
It’s so important that everyone plays a role in recognising that a colleague is struggling and creating a supportive, and stigma-free office environment.
Recognising symptoms like fatigue, over tiredness, headaches, and change in moods could be symptoms of a deeper problem.
Managers should always ensure staff feel happy to speak up if they are not coping.
Does owning IP rights improve economic performance?
A recent study performed by the European Patent Office (EPO) and the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) has shown that companies which own at least one patent, trade mark or registered design generate on average 20% higher revenues per employee and pay their staff on average 19% higher wages compared to companies that do not own any of these intellectual property (IP) rights.
Let it go!
Keeping an IP budget afloat despite sunk costs.
The cost of securing IP can be heavily front loaded. Examples of such costs include patent drafting, pre-filing searches, filing fees, etc. These costs become “sunk” costs in that they cannot be recovered. Because IP protection can be a relatively long process, at any time during the process there are likely to be significant “prospective” costs: future costs that may be wholly or partially avoided depending on actions taken.
Managing your business-critical IP during the COVID-19 crisis
UK businesses are fighting for survival during the continuing COVID-19 outbreak and trying to trade under difficult conditions, the likes of which haven’t been seen in the living memory of most business people. If you’re afraid that your business is going to the wall, it probably isn’t the top of your mind to pay for a patent application for your new technology or a registration of the trade mark for your brand new clothing range, right? Where is the money coming from to invest in such luxuries as IP, we hear you say, when staff are being furloughed and orders have been postponed?
Videoconferencing: the future of oral proceedings at the EPO?
The European Patent Office has announced that videoconferencing will become the norm for oral proceedings before examination and opposition divisions until at least 15 September 2021. But is this a taste of what the future holds for oral proceedings at the EPO?
EPO-CNIPA pilot for International Search
On 12 November 2019, the EPO and CNIPA agreed to enhance their bilateral co-operation to give patent applicants filing an international patent application in English at the CNIPA, the choice to opt for the EPO as their ISA. A two year pilot programme launched on 1 December 2020, offers applicants filing international applications with the CNIPA or the International Bureau (IB) of the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) the opportunity to select the EPO as their ISA and as their International Preliminary Examining Authority (IPEA), rather than CNIPA.
Changes to trade mark and patent law in Gibraltar
In October 2020, the UK Government declared that the territorial effect of five important IP treaties would be extended to cover Gibraltar from 1 January 2021. These treaties are the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the Madrid Protocol (on International trade marks), the Nice Agreement (on trade mark classification), and the Berne Convention (on copyright). Following on from this, a bill was passed in on 11 December 2020, making some amendments to trade mark and patent law in Gibraltar.