The 2011/09/05 at 10:51
Alexandre T. Analis
Commerce International: In what circumstances was the Gevers group born and how has it evolved?
Gérard Bloch: “Gevers is one of the oldest firms specialised in industrial property in Europe. It was founded at the end of the 19th century (1898) in Antwerp (Belgium) by Jacques Gevers Sr. Today, it is presided by Jacques Gevers Jr. Throughout its long history, the group has endeavoured to innovate and to offer new services and working methods, both for its clients and its employees. Without being exhaustive, we can chiefly mention developments, in the 1930s, in registering research and trademark surveillance, and in this context, the creation in 1966 of CompuMark. As a world leader on its market, this company was taken over in 1986 by Thomson Reuters. In 1985, Gevers created the USPTO (United States Patents and Trademarks Office) database. Mention can also be made of Edital, a company set up in 1991 to develop an intellectual asset management software and an outsider of CompuMark. In 2005, Edital, a global reference in its activity, was taken over by Questel-Orbit which sold it in 2010 to Corsearch, a US subsidiary of the Kluwer Group (Netherlands), one of the global leaders in legal documentation. Other examples might be mentioned, conveying a constant desire to anticipate market evolutions, to adapt, to permanently innovate, to continually be in line with client needs.”
Gevers has also expanded by taking over other companies. What are its main acquisitions?
G. B.: “At the start of this millennium, Gevers understood the need to grow externally, particularly on the international front. The first significant acquisition was, in 1988, the Vander Haeghen firm set up in 1911, another large Belgian firm best known for its patent activity. In 2002-2004, different Belgian offices were structured into a group to share and support the same vision. More recently, my partner Daniel David and I joined the Gevers group to found, in 2007, Bloch & Gevers in Paris. Other partnerships were subsequently established, firstly with the Martinet & Lapoux (2008) and Bonnetat (2009) firms in France, then, in 2010, with GLN in Switzerland and Bird & Goen in Belgium. To date, the Gevers group relies on over 200 collaborators including 85 patent or trademark attorneys, spread out in nine offices in Belgium, France and Switzerland.”
Is Gevers uniquely specialised in industrial property?
Pierre Boury: “Yes. For over one hundred years, Gevers has focused exclusively on intellectual property, but from a genuinely global perspective. This vision translates the overriding necessity to be able to tackle all issues surrounding intellectual property at every stage of technological innovation or marketing procedures, and with a multidisciplinary approach. If we are to talk more specifically about the innovation procedure, we can distinguish four major stages: innovation strategy, protection and active management, exploitation and defence, and finally, auditing and valorisation. Thanks to our in-house experts, and – for new services – with the support of highly specialised partners, our ambition is to bring an undisputed added value to each of these stages. Indeed – and this reflects the multidisciplinary aspect of our approach – it is also necessary to be able to rely on expertise complementary to ours in order to provide a truly global service. This goes for the so-called ‘upstream’ services (trademark creation and innovation consultancy) and for so-called ‘downstream’ services (advice on tax issues, financial and/or asset structuring, valorisation, etc.). Ultimately, the client is the winner as he or she will find an answer to every question, in an integrated manner.”
What does your activity named Valipat consist of ?
Lidy-Anne Jeswiet: “While a large proportion of our advice concerns intellectual aspects, a non-negligible share of services relating to intellectual property deals essentially with the administrative management of rights (trademarks and patents). The lifespan of these rights depends on numerous procedures that are sometimes complicated and costly. The economic environment, which strongly deteriorated in 2008, new legal instruments (such as the EU trademark, the USA’s membership of the Madrid Treaty or more recently, in 2009, the London Protocol) or political projects (such as the single European patent desired by the European Commission), as well as the explosion of new communication technologies (such as Internet) have crystallised, on the one hand, Europe’s need to support innovation protection, and on the other hand, to distinguish intellectual services with high added value from administrative services that we qualify as ‘commodities’. This crystallisation has created a real rupture in the operating modes of intellectual rights management, for pressure on commodity rates is extreme.
On the strength of its tradition of anticipating the main evolutions in the world of intellectual property, the Gevers group has decided to simplify, standardise and optimise the execution of commodities, with the aim being to maintain a very high level of quality, to control risks perfectly, and to drastically reduce costs. Valipat is the best expression of this aim. At the end of 2008, we set Valipat up as an online portal for placing and following up orders for European patents to be validated. When a European patent is delivered, it in fact needs to be validated in all countries where its holder wants it to have an effect. This is a formality accompanied by a complete or partial translation of the patent. The Valipat portal allows all such validations to be ordered online, thus simplifying and accelerating the processing of the whole file. Ultimately, expenses for patent holders are cut by 30 to 50 % depending on the order.
With 8,000 validations carried out every year, we are currently developing new services to supplement this portal shortly, but details remain confidential at this stage. We are in line with the great tendency of our market: administrative services need to be simplified and the reduction of their costs should respect entrepreneurial budgets that, more than ever, need to be optimised. International legal instruments are evolving in the same direction: an example is the London Protocol, an agreement dating from October 2000 between member countries of the European patent system, which provides translations of patents in all languages of the EPO countries. Or else the European patent project (the so-called single patent), that in our eyes seems inevitable and should come into force in the next three to five years in all member States of the EU. If these purely administrative costs diminish, entrepreneurs will be able to invest more in other stages of the innovation process, allowing us to strengthen Europe’s competitive position, perfectly in line with the objectives of Lisbon.”
How is work organised between the group’s various subsidiaries?
Marie-José Luys: “We follow two major objectives: integration and support for our patent and trademark attorneys to free them from all material contingencies. The Gevers expert should be a pivotal point for advising and guiding the client on all questions relating to his or her intellectual property needs. It is then up to the expert to deal with the file personally or else call upon a group colleague or even an external expert when this is justified. Ultimately, it is essential that the task is entrusted to the person most apt to do it, in terms of skills, location and availability. This integration is one of our group’s great ambitions. It is not particularly interesting to grow for the sake of growth itself. Adding pieces to a puzzle holds no meaning if all pieces already fit together and are joined with one another for the great benefit of the client.
Generally speaking, the market requires consultants to have a more economic and marketing-focused vision because an excellent engineer or lawyer is no longer enough. Supporting the client’s reflections and strategic decisions, offering tailor-made solutions, and putting them in place in an economical and profitable global framework is an extremely important part of our activity. From this perspective, clients can be sure that our advice is backed up by marketing, communication, IT or financial skills. Needs are centralised on the level of the group, as well as on the level of human resources management, human resources being our sole asset. This support function is taking on a constantly growing importance, and the profiles of the engineers and lawyers that we recruit have evolved greatly in recent years: they need to be open to market needs and swift evolutions, they need to be multilingual, in short they need to have a better knowledge of the markets and of global integration. They also should be highly motivated about their career paths within the group. These two objectives, integration and support, are a daily preoccupation of our management, federated by our international CEO.”
What happens when a client is confronted by a situation of unfair competition?
M. J.: “The task of Gevers is to generate rights that benefit its clients, to manage and exploit them, but also to defend them, not only on the legal front but also – and above all – on the administrative front. An administrative dispute may not be confidential, but it is in any case more discreet, faster and less costly than a legal one. In this way, we create communitarian oppositions that are formalities enabling us to oppose the administration’s deliverance of a particular right or to obtain a revocation of a right. We lodged at the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP) at La Haye 285 opposition files in 2009, 250 in 2010 and 140 in the first six months this year. In the same way, we mount and lodge oppositions for European trademarks and patents, to cite the main ones. Litigious proceedings are not however an end in themselves. They are at best a tool to enable an intellectual right to be respected, to affirm in a determined manner one’s desire to prevent anyone else from stepping on one’s territory. There is nothing worse than having a trademark or patent not actively managed and defended. It loses all its value. It is with this in mind that title holders should envisage costs linked with such defence: intellectual rights are assets and investments, not expenses!”
Do you carry out any activities to fight against counterfeit products?
L. J.: “Five years ago, we set up a unit dedicated exclusively to fighting against counterfeiting and we cooperate enormously in this domain with European and national customs agents. In this context, we have devoted ourselves to training and educating customs agents to prepare them for this new profession; in doing so, we have actively contributed to restoring the image of customs agents and motivating them because the suppression of borders within the Union had turned them into ‘orphans’. The fight against counterfeit is a relentless fight that requires perseverance, a taste for action, and singlemindedness: a few t-shirts seized over here, a few car parts over there, a few watches or shoes, and a whole network may be uncovered and dismantled. The stakes are far higher than the protection of the income of rights holders. It is also a matter of protection for the health and security of consumers, support for European innovation, and last but not least, contribution to the fight for more decent working conditions, sometimes in far-off countries. So yes, we fight tirelessly in this domain, in close collaboration with our clients and customs authorities.”
Who are your clients?
G. B.: “We target businesses in particular, from VSEs to large groups not forgetting research centres and universities. Most of these are found in Europe, the United States and Asia. For clients outside of Europe, we intervene as European patent attorneys. Amongst the multinationals that call on our services, we can namely mention Airbus, CSEM, Georgia Pacific, IMEC, Kraft, Leonidas, Orange, Quick, Sagem, SNCF, Snecma, Spadel, Thalys, Tyco, Valeo … But we have over 5,000 active clients, so let’s stop there … »
What are your objectives for coming years?
G. B.: “Our targets are very clear: significant and integrated presence in at least six European countries, a global palette of services that create value for our clients, a commodities pole (for administrative services) that is a leader on the international scale and that, all the while preserving strict quality and security standards, can cut client budgets, and a reference employer situation for providing the best intellectual property advice. And above all, to continue to anticipate and innovate, to serve and benefit our clients.”