Kiwis take on the Aussies and win

by Hannah Norton10 Jul 2015
A New Zealand IP firm is leading the charge when it comes to patent law in Australia.

James & Wells is ahead of Australian counterparts when it comes to filing in the Patent Office, partner Gus Hazel said.

“We are competing against, and beating, Australian firms in their own backyard,” he told NZLawyer.

“And we’re getting some really good work. Australia’s had major reforms in its patent laws in the last couple of years, and they are only just starting to kick in now. And as it turns out, we are going to be leading the first cases testing new law, which is a great accolade really.”

Partners in the firm have just been named on the IP industry’s most illustrious list, the Intellectual Asset Management’s IAM Patent 1000.

Hazel was recommended for patent litigation and transactions, while his fellow partners, Ian Finch and Kate Wilson received a gold ranking for patent litigation and transactions and a recommendation for patent prosecution, respectively.

Hazel, who hails from Australia, moved over to New Zealand a decade ago and has since practiced in both Auckland and Wellington.

He’s one of several Australian lawyers at the firm, which he believed did offer a competitive edge when working over the ditch.

“There are [also] some cost advantages for international firms working through New Zealand. They are not pronounced right now as they sometimes are, given the Australian and New Zealand dollar are pretty close,” he said.

“The other thing about James & Wells is we just try to do things a little bit differently. We try to be more ‘less traditional law firm, more business partner’. Someone you can actually talk to. And what we have found is that even the really big multinational firms really seem to enjoy doing business with us. It is not the sterile experience they’ve had with a lot of law firms. They seem to be able to get along with us as people.”

So what are the major challenges when it comes to working trans-Tasman?

“There are some challenges, but they are not insurmountable.  The Australian firms are starting to come here [as well], so I guess that is becoming more of a trend – Australian firms doing cases here, us doing cases there,” he said.

The laws in the two countries are similar, but not identical, so lawyers do have to upskill, he said.

“On top of the legal difference, there are some practice differences as well. The way you would present a case in New Zealand is not the same way as you would present a case in Australian courts, and the same in the Patent Office. Things are done slightly differently here. They are only nuances – but they are important.”

Hazel said he is now happy practicing in both jurisdictions.

“It’s the way of the future, to be honest. New Zealand and Australia are becoming closer and closer economically. Particularly for a company from the US, Europe or China – they treat them as one. I have even had clients say, ‘oh, are they different countries?’.”

“I tell them, ‘Yes they are’,” he laughed.

“They are just kind of lumped together as one economic unit, and that’s the way it is.”