Firm profile: Marks & Clerk

Managing partner:

Mark Blair
Fee income: £2.5m
Total number of partners: Three
Total number of fee-earners: Nine
Main practice areas: Specialist IP
Key clients: BMW, First Choice Holidays, Interflora, Lucasfilm and MedImmune
Number of offices: One
Location: London

When patent and trademark attorneys Marks & Clerk brought its associated law firm Blair & Co under its flag in March last year it issued a challenge for ministers to hurry up with multidisciplinary partnerships (MDPs). “While the Government and Sir David Clementi are consulting and making up their minds, we’re going ahead and doing it, as that’s what clients are asking us to do,” said Marks & Clerk senior partner Chris Gibson at the time. The law firm’s managing partner Mark Blair chided: “The Law Society’s views are that they want to move along the lines of MDPs. There’s commitment there in principle, there’s commitment from the Government, but nothing much has happened.”

Now that Clementi has opted for legal disciplinary partnerships (LDPs), Blair is more sanguine about reform. “We’re in no great hurry because the situation works well for us,” he says. “Obviously we’re interested in Clementi and the recommendations. Our current arrangement, and in particular the association with Marks & Clerk, insofar as we’re co-branding, is as far as we can go under the current regulatory framework.”

What would LDPs mean to the firm? “It would be an option for us to trade under a single name rather than as two firms, but the key issue for LDPs is how they’ll be regulated,” he replies. As Blair points out, although the firm is “a classic example of the need for LDPs”, the attorney practice would far outweigh the solicitors’ practice if they were to join forces, which raises questions as to what professional body would be responsible.

The three-partner law firm rebranded under the Marks & Clerk name last year after trading as Blair & Co since 2001. Its other half is the UK’s largest firm of patent and trademark attorneys. “Traditionally in the IP field, patent and trademark attorneys do the prosecution and protection of patents and trademarks and solicitors do the litigation on the commercial side,” says Blair. “So effectively, what we do between the two separate firms is everything in the IP field, and now we can do that under one brand name. It works very well. We’ve found no market resistance at all and the clients are very happy.” The firm is well known for successfully representing Czech brewer Budejovicky Budvar in its dispute with Anheuser-Busch and biotech company MedImmune in its dispute with Celltech. Both cases went to the Court of Appeal.

In July the attorneys joined up with the IP arm of electronics group Thales to launch its first office in France. The new partnership is 60 per cent owned by the French team, with the remaining 40 per cent held by Marks & Clerk. The latter now has five international offices and 12 within the UK. “Although we’re based in London, we service the work for all the offices,” says Blair.

The firm has grown from a one-man band to nine fee-earners since 2001. There are two other partners at the firm and six other solicitors. “Although we’re a boutique in size, all we do is IP work, and the size of the firm compares favourably to the size of IP departments in the bigger firms,” says Blair. “It’s a very specialist market and the clients see it that way as well. We want to continue growing and we have the association and back-up of a much bigger business to see that continue.”