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A Day in the Life of an IP Blog-Meister

April 2008

By Jeremy Phillips

There are many ways to spread the word about intellectual property - books, articles, seminars, adverts, activities for young people. And then there are the weblogs, or ‘blogs,’ now sprouting across the Internet like cyber-mushrooms. British academic and writer Dr. Jeremy Phillips is a veteran IP ‘blog-meister.’ A founder of the IPKat weblog, he is an active contributor to several other blogs, including the new Afro-IP. In this article for WIPO Magazine, he shares some thoughts on the rise of the IP blog, and on what it takes to run one successfully.

A blog is a quick, easy and generally free way of grabbing an audience. A do-it-yourself website, it enables the blogger to post news, comments, photos or video clips, and offer them to an audience as wide as the Internet itself.

There are no rules as to what a blogger can write about. Holiday fun, political diatribes and favourite recipes are just a few topics that have tempted ordinary folk to expose their opinions to the world. It is no surprise, then, that some bloggers have opted for intellectual property (IP) as their chosen topic. And since a blog is a personal account, no subject, nor any slant upon it, lies beyond the range of the IP bloggers – from those who rage against piracy free-riding on the creativity and investments of others, to those who rail against digital rights management or the pricing policies of the recording industries; from advocates of the protection of traditional knowledge, geographical indications or data, to champions of open source.

It is remarkable nonetheless – when you consider how busy most successful IP legal experts are, and just how much commentary on IP law and practice already exists - that so many specialist IP law blogs have sprung up. Early pioneers like The Trademark Blog in the United States have inspired private practitioners, academics and even Patent Office employees to place their reasoned understanding, their furious rants and their breaking news before an increasingly voracious readership.

While most bloggers are soloists, juggling multiple commitments, many successful blogs now are run as a team effort. Blog-posting software enables groups of individuals, sometimes writing from different time-zones, to keep up the flow with less stress. The six person team of the Class 46 blog – which specialises in European trademark law – spans nearly 1,900 km and five jurisdictions, while the prolific eight-strong team of Spicy IP in India produces a veritable cascade of news and views.

But can you trust them?

Critics of blogs complain that, while law journals are refereed and books carefully checked before publication, blogs undergo no equivalent quality control process. That’s true, but most blogs enable readers to post their own comments, so that a blogger’s mistakes can be pointed out, his questions answered and his position on issues of the day endorsed or rejected. Most IP bloggers also cite their sources or hyperlink directly to the source of their information.

Other critics object that bloggers are too selective: they may write up the Da Vinci Code dispute if they like the outcome, but ignore the spat over plagiarism of Harry Potter if they don’t. This criticism misses the point: a blog records what the blogger wants to get across. It is not an encyclopaedia – and what for example Patent Baristas chooses to leaves out, Patently-O may wish to feast on – or vice versa.

What does it take?

Asking what it is like being an IP blogger is a bit like asking what it’s like to be a human being. That said, IP bloggers do tend to share certain characteristics, not least:

  • the online equivalent of an extrovert streak,
  • a passion for IP,
  • an acute desire to inform and to share,
  • the ability to read, think, formulate and express an opinion - all at high speed,
  • patient and understanding family and colleagues.

And a typical day? I am committed to five IP ‘team’ blogs with different aims, in addition to my regular work and professional engagements. But judging from conversations with fellow IP bloggers, my experiences, though perhaps extreme, seem not untypical.

I’m up shortly after 5am to check the status of my blogs, count the previous day’s hits and check for criticisms, corrections and comments that may have come in overnight. The hit figures are vital. If your readership starts to decline, it’s time to ask what’s wrong: your analysis, your presentation or your content? Keeping the blog fresh is also essential. I post articles that I prepared late the previous night, so that readers in and behind my time zone will have something new to read when they log on.

Bloggers have to be multi-taskers. I check my emails throughout the day while, for example, taking routine phone calls. Each time a new item or comment is posted on the blogs, I receive an email alerting me to the fact that there is an item to be moderated. If you don’t do this, your blog becomes a magnet for spam and advertisements for generic Viagra.

I also check my emails for the latest tip-offs. Readers often ask how the IPKat – a broadly-focused multi-jurisdictional forum for IP law and practice – can post information so quickly. The answer is that sometimes the IPKat is sent details from practitioners, press releases, litigants, policy-makers and institutional employees before an event happens, or contemporaneously with it. This hugely enhances the freshness of the blog. No-one wants to be the thirty-seventh blogger to write how Google’s application to register GMAIL as a Community trade mark was thwarted by an earlier registrant of a similar national mark.

Last thing at night, I check my blogs once more, just to make sure that any readers’ comments in need of moderation don’t have to wait till the next morning for me to approve them.

Avoiding infringements

IP bloggers have to be particularly careful about the use on their blogs of material protected by IP rights. After all, they can hardly claim ignorance of copyright or trade mark law.

Textual quotes are rarely a problem, since the Berne Convention’s exceptions for reporting news and current events, and the bona fide reproduction of an extract of a work for criticism or review, are widely understood.

The use of a trademark-protected logo may be apt in the context of illustrating a blog article about that trademark. And it is rarely going to be the sort of use that attracts legal liability. Even so, rights owners who are constantly told by IP lawyers how important it is for them to prevent unauthorised uses of their marks, may resent being told by IP lawyer-bloggers that they are being fussy and overprotective if they complain about use of their trademark in a blog.

The IPKat has an automatic take-down policy for all images and will remove them as a matter of goodwill in case of any complaint, even if there is no way that it can be said to be an IP infringement. There is no point in alienating prospective friends and readers.

What’s in it for the blog-meister?

So, apart from telling readers about IP while seeking to avoid liability for infringing it, what’s in it for the IP bloggers?

Some of us do it out of a missionary zeal to convert readers to IP in general, or to our personal views concerning it. Others seek to build up recognition, and hence business, in their fields of expertise. Some just do it for the fun. But there’s one thing you can be sure of: for as long as blogs are free, none of us does it for the money!

The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.