We recently asked 100 managing partners to address their mind to one question: What forces, already at work within our profession, have the greatest potential to profoundly transform (positively or negatively) your firm’s future in the next three years? What follows are the views of 47 firm leaders, representing firms from 100 to over 3000 lawyers in size:
Patenting of Business Processes
One of the more intriguing forces brought to our attention was a managing partner who informed us, “A highly fragmented patent regime combined with differing interpretations across international boundaries and a relatively new initiative to patent business processes could introduce some potential threats in years to come.”
According to this individual, over 8000 applications for business methods are now filed each year. For example, tax strategies are now being patented through the U.S. Patent Office. Tax practitioners could face new liability dangers as a result of the actions of tax shelter promoters who patent their tax reduction strategies. Following from that, if tax professionals are aware that the tax planning methods that they are helping clients to implement are patented, attorneys and accountants may incur patent infringement liability.
For the time being, tax and estate planning is the most likely area that risks patent infringement litigation. However, we are being told that real estate, and corporate M&A could also become at risk. The firm leader who initially brought this burning issue to our attention asked rhetorically, “As attorneys, should we now begin applying for patents on strategies that we have discovered in solving particularly thorny problems for clients?”
Changes on the International Stage
We wonder how worried U.S. capital market lawyers are about one particular international trend. A couple of law firm leaders expressed their concern for “the recent drain of international public offerings flowing from New York to London”. We were told that where New York once had 59% of global IPO’s raising more than $1bn (in 2001), it now has a mere 6.5%
Behind the scenes, we suspect that there are a number of law firms quietly wondering if London could ever possibly displace New York as the world’s financial center – at least in the lucrative, high margin practices. While New York remains the center of the hedge fund and private equity worlds, London is increasingly the key center for innovation in important parts of the derivatives and structured finance world.