Five minutes with...Thomas Huthwaite, Baldwins

by Mackenzie McCarty13 Jun 2014
Thomas Huthwaite is a barrister and solicitor at IP firm Baldwins, specialising in intellectual property litigation, dispute resolution and commercialisation. Below, he tells NZ Lawyer about clients wanting to “patent” their hallucinations, where to get the best eggs bene in Wellington – and why Kim Dotcom will be stealing the IP limelight later this year...
 
NZ Lawyer: What made you decide to become a lawyer?

Thomas Huthwaite: It probably had something to do with pop culture – legal drama was some of my favourite fiction and film growing up, including Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird, Kafka’s The Trial, Charles Dickens… Wait, wasn’t it him who wrote something like “first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers”?          
Of course, criminal defence gets the most attention, so that’s what I initially had in mind.
 
How long have you worked with Baldwins and what brought you to the firm?

Almost four years.  I travelled in early 2010, came back to New Zealand to finish my Legal Professionals and met a partner from Baldwins at the same course.  I remember nervously knocking over an entire glass of water in my mock trial – and she still gave me a chance!
If I’m being completely honest, at the time I had very little idea what intellectual property was all about – but I haven’t looked back since.
 
What’s the strangest case you’ve ever worked on/been involved with?

Intellectual property does tend to attract some interesting characters.  I’ve seen a fair share of inquiries from people who want to “patent” their dreams, spiritual experiences, or hallucinations. 
I’ve also encountered people who claimed that their ideas were stolen – when in fact those ideas never left their head in the first place.  Unfortunately, the maxim “I think, therefore I am” does not translate literally to “I thought, therefore it’s intellectual property”.
 
Who will you be supporting at the FIFA World Cup (and why)?

I don’t have any real connection to any of the teams at this year’s World Cup, so what I’m really looking for is some great football and for some of the stars to shine.  The latter was sorely lacking in the last World Cup, so I’m hoping that the likes of Messi and Neymar give us some ‘Maradona moments’ this year.
 
You’re based in Wellington – where’s the best place to go for brunch on a Sunday morning?

My (younger) sister recently told me that you know you’re getting older when brunch becomes your favourite meal of the day.  So this is a very hard decision…
I’m afraid I have to mention two names, since I can’t choose: Duke Carvell’s, who always impress regardless of which meal you join them for, and Café Polo, whose home-smoked salmon/ham/bacon eggs benedict are all exquisite.
 
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given (work or personal)?

I have always been fond of the saying that “you make your own luck”. Preparing for and seizing opportunities are strategies for creating luck; simply hoping for the best is not a strategy.  That seems to apply equally to work and personal life.
 
Do you have any hobbies/interests outside of work?

I have a passion for art that doesn’t get enough attention because it’s relatively time-consuming.  That includes painting (oils) and budget film-making (including participating in the annual 48 Hour film competition with a great bunch of mates).
If food and drink can be considered “hobbies/interests”, much of my spare time seems to be arranged around those!
 
Complete this sentence: If I wasn’t a lawyer, I would be…

A novelist or a spy – in other words, either Ian Fleming or James Bond.
 
What do you think will be single biggest issue facing the IP space in New Zealand over the next 12 months?

One major issue is the shape of the digital media landscape, which mostly involves copyright and commercial licensing arrangements.  How and when are rights holders’ (especially in the TV and film industries) going to start offering more content to New Zealanders?  Will we see the likes of Netflix and Hulu open their doors to our shores?  The “three strikes” or “skynet” system for infringing file sharing seems to have faded away, but many people are still sharing content illegally.

Of course, the Kim Dotcom saga also continues this year in August, which (in typical Dotcom fashion) will steal a fair amount of limelight.

And I have to mention the biggest piece of IP legislation this year – the new Patents Act – which commences fully on 13 September 2014 and will introduce tougher criteria for those seeking patent protection.
 
What do you love about your job?

The intellectual challenges it presents on a daily basis.  Many people think that law is all about rules and structure (which it is), but there is also an element of creativity and thinking outside the box in order to solve a problem.
Taking on and succeeding in that kind of intellectual challenge is immensely satisfying.

What would you change about your job right now if you could?

Definitely fewer hours in front of some kind of computer screen each day. Whether it's communicating, researching, or writing, a great deal of time is spent staring at a back-lit monitor.  I’m also not hugely fond of air conditioning, so I’m all in favour of this new idea of “walking meetings”.
 

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