The future of Dibb Lupton Alsop's Leeds-based patent division is in doubt as the firm approaches local agencies about buying the department.
It is understood that Dibbs is asking patent agents to sign confidentiality agreements which include a non-solicitation clause as it seeks a buyer for the 22-strong patent agent office.
Sources say the firm intends to sell the division as a whole and will include its employees as part of the package, hence the need for the non-solicitation agreement.
Nigel Knowles, managing partner at Dibbs, says: “Like any good business we are reviewing our strategic options in relation to our patents office to maximise our strengths.”
He adds: “There could be several options open to us but there has been no decision made.”
The division was set up 10 years ago by former head of intellectual property Richard Sutton.
According to Andrew Darwin, head of corporate at Dibbs, it was one of the first patent offices to be set up within a private practice.
However, one industry source says: “I think it was an experiment that has not worked out.
“With patents on one hand and professionals on the other they have gradually realised that it doesn't work. I think they had no choice – it had to happen.”
He adds: “Patent agents do not like to have overheads. There would always be differences, they would not be operating equally.”
It is believed that the firm is talking to a number of interested parties. Not every patent agent approached has signed the confidentiality agreement.
According to Darwin, the firm decided to integrate the patent division within the corporate group which also houses the communications and technology department.
He says that both the communications and technology and patent departments have been gravitating towards each other because of the licensing involved in the information technology sector.