Firm's first ever female partner returns

by Hannah Norton13 Apr 2015
The first female partner of one of New Zealand’s oldest firms has returned to its helm 16 years later.

Subject to New Zealand Law Society approval, Colleen Cavanagh has re-joined the partnership at IP firm AJ Park.

She was the first female partner at the firm, appointed in 1990; where she stayed for nine years before leaving to spend time with her young family.

But she always had at least one finger in the IP law pie, including part-time work at a boutique firm and a job-sharing role at Bell Gully, before managing full-time the firm’s non-contentious IP practice.

Last year she came back to AJ Park in a consultancy role, before re-joining the partnership as of this month.

Speaking to NZLawyer, Cavanagh said it was great to be back in the specialist environment in a long-established IP firm.

“We are going to be 125 years old next year – it’s a firm with a long history and a great name.

“As you’d expect, there’s been a lot of changes, but the firm’s had huge growth, and more recently, the opening of its Australian office and so on.

“So there’s a lot that’s different, but there’s a lot that is oddly familiar about it as well.”

The main driver of change was, without a doubt, technology.

Examples Cavanagh gave included the Intellectual Property Office expanding all of its online services to allow for online searching, the filing of applications and renewals, and more recently the introduction of online correspondence filing facilities.

“Which may sound like it should have been an obvious thing, but when I left Parks the first time it was very much a paper system,” she said.

Intellectual property legislation has also been completely overhauled.

There’s been the Trademarks Act; the introduction of international trademarks applications from New Zealand, with New Zealand joining the Madrid Protocol; amendments to the copyright legislation, particularly in the area of infringing file sharing; and new Patents Act which came into force last year, bringing about substantial changes to obtaining patents.

“So we had a whole lot of antiquated legislation - based back in the 1950s - which has been modernised, and it was probably well overdue.”

There were also changes afoot in terms of the single market economic framework announced by both the Australian and New Zealand Governments, Cavanagh said.

“There are a number of initiatives there, including proposals for a single patent attorney process, and single examination – that is still on the books.

“Also proposals which I think will probably come to fruition next year for a single patent attorney regulatory regime – so a single registration process to register patent attorneys in Australia and New Zealand.”

Another significant change she noted was the proliferation of IP firms and service providers in the last two or three years.

“I think we are right amongst it at the moment actually.

“A lot of splinter boutique firms are setting up, with different varieties of services.

“That’s leading to some quite aggressive marketing in terms of cost-cutting in the market.”

“So really, I think increasingly the challenge is to keep offering relevant, business savvy services at attractive cost points is a big issue.”