Business is booming at the intellectual property Bar and big names, as well as newer silks, are in great demand – though generally concentrated within three sets. These are Three New Square, headed by David Young QC, the "charming and delightful" Michael Fysh QC's chambers at 8 New Square and 11 South Square where Christopher Floyd QC is the head of chambers.
On the whole, the service from the IP bar is described as being of the highest calibre – but problems with availability are driving some solicitors to distraction.
One practitioner tells The Lawyer that when trying to arrange a meeting with a high profile silk he was told that it could take place in October or November at the earliest. Another explains his exasperation: "We have experienced some sets simply saying that they do not have anybody, or offering us a six-month pupil for an injunction application."
The solicitor adds: "Due to caseloads, certain counsel have been almost totally inaccessible for weeks at a time during periods of intense activity in the case. It seems likely that more firms will be developing in-house advocacy expertise in this field in order to cope with the woeful lack of capacity at the Bar."
Despite this situation, to which many chambers are trying to respond, the leading sets come highly recommended, and those silks already practising at the IP Bar are heaped with praise.
The list of recommended barristers is not exhaustive but is based on the subjective recommendations of leading IP practitioners.
Starting at the top, at Three New Square, Simon Thorley QC "works hard", "can make the worst argument sound plausible" and is "good both on paper and as an advocate". Having taken silk this year, Andrew Waugh QC is a "well deserved leader" and is busy enhancing his reputation as a fine advocate.
For patent work, Antony Watson QC is "wonderful" and will "have you in stitches. He's great fun to work with and likes enjoying himself." For other work, head of chambers David Young QC is rated, while particularly impressive this year is Richard Miller QC, who is turning out to be "better as a silk than as a junior".
At Michael Fysh QC's set there is plenty of favourable noise for the man himself, but David Kitchin QC came out as favourite because he is "fantastic with clients, hardworking and can be let loose on anything". Peter Prescott QC is enormously clever, "too clever for easy things", but "absolutely brilliant when you get him interested". John Baldwin QC is described as "a lot better", having produced some very good results, and wins special praise for a recent patents case where he conducted a brilliant cross-examination.
Also in demand at this set are Mary Vitoria QC who is a "real grafter" and "gives you total confidence" but is "better on paper than as an advocate" and Mark Platts-Mills QC who is rated for design rights matters.
At 11 South Square, Henry Carr QC is a "non-pompous, user-friendly fellow", rated for his work in patents/pharmaceuticals, IP/IT copyright and trade marks. One practitioner says he is "very good at seeing the wood for the trees and very quick on his feet. He is creative and inventive – a good lateral thinker."
Head of chambers Christopher Floyd QC is spoken highly of and is "well-respected by the judges", while Michael Silverleaf QC is brilliant", particularly for jurisdictional matters. Nicholas Pumfrey QC, who was highly recommended in last year's survey, has been appointed as a judge at the Patents Court.
Geoffrey Hobbs QC at One Essex Court is more than "worthy of an honourable mention", coming in as the fourth most highly-rated silk. He wins particular praise for trade mark and passing off-related matters and for his "down to earth" nature and ability as a "team player".
A 1998 silk winning high praise is Nicholas Green QC of Brick Court Chambers, described as possessing a "very good grasp of the law" combined with a "reasonable grasp of commercial reality".
Alastair Wilson QC at 19 Old Buildings is recommended for "all hopeless or problem cases", while at One Raymond Buildings, Christopher Morcom QC is rated for his work in the Trade Mark's Registry and Roger Wyand QC is described simply as "good".
Elsewhere there is a desperate lack of specialists save for Jonathan Rayner James QC at 5 New Square or Littleton Chambers' "user-friendly" Michael Burton QC for commercial matters with an IP element.
Overall, the message from the solicitors profession seems to be "more of the same, please".