FFW partners go to war

Field Fisher Waterhouse IP partner John Olsen has filed a claim with an employment tribunal, complaining of age discrimination and harassment. His claims are absolutely astonishing.


FFW partners go to war What a mess. Field Fisher Waterhouse (FFW) has got itself into an almighty battle with its own IP partner John Olsen (see story).

Olsen has filed a claim with an employment tribunal, complaining of age discrimination and harassment. His claims are absolutely astonishing.

They paint a picture of a partnership at war with itself. Indeed, one former partner describes the place as a war zone. The key figures in the dispute are head of trademarks Olsen, head of IP and IT disputes Nick Rose and head of just about ­everything else Mark Abell.

Abell is described as the “quasi-managing partner” of FFW – a position that is officially held by Moira Gilmour. He has long been the most influential ­partner at the firm, but one of the most interesting points of this complaint is that he’s barred from being managing partner by a clause in the FFW ­partnership agreement. It is understood that this unusual clause was inserted into the agreement in the mid-1990s after another dispute – this time between Abell, Rose and travel partner Peter Stewart.

Some say that Abell wouldn’t want to be managing partner anyway. “He likes power, but he’s not interested in the details,” says a source who knows the firm well. “He likes to do the grand strategy, but doesn’t want to hire and fire assistants.”

One source compared Abell to Putin and Gilmour to Medvedev. It’s clear that Olsen has a point about Abell’s power, but his power in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. It is, however, a bad thing when it sows seeds of resentment. Which it obviously has with Olsen.

It is not an overstatement to say that Olsen’s dispute has the potential to destroy FFW’s IP practice. The complaints on both sides about the handling and servicing of major international brands such as Elizabeth Arden and Warner Brothers will make horrifying reading for other clients.

Abell and Olsen are both extremely stubborn men. Both think they are right and both will argue that the other is lying. This is very unlikely to settle. If you thought Bloxham v Freshfields was ­fascinating, then watch this. It’s going to get nasty.

steve.hoare@thelawyer.com