Thanks to the hard work of the Intellectual Property Department (IPD), people in Hong Kong have realised the significance and value of such intangible property as trademarks, patents and designs.
Today, the IPD prides itself as a streamlined but result-oriented operation that is looking to accomplish even more. "We have plenty of unfinished business," says Peter Cheung, the IPD's deputy director. "That's why we need greater support from legal professionals who possess a great sense of mission and look to developing a meaningful career with us."
The IPD now employs 19 solicitors － a rather small number compared with the 250 at the Department of Justice. But as Mr Cheung points out, "We are a specialist team, and not many young people in the legal profession would actively seek employment opportunities with us because they don't know much about our operations. Besides, the job of a solicitor here is not the easiest or highest-paid."
However, there's more to working with the IPD than simply having a job there. "Many solicitors who worked here for a couple of years have been headhunted by private corporations," says Mr Cheung. "They have become legal elites who have been through the best training and as a result possess professional and industry knowledge that may enhance their competitiveness. But as a result of their moving on to higher positions we have more positions to fill."
Intellectual property is invaluable. Some international "brands" are worth billions, and would cost millions to restore if stolen or otherwise damaged. Turning policies into law has been part of the IPD's job in protecting such property. The department also acts as a legal adviser for the government, carries out registration of trademarks, patents and designs, conducts hearings when disputes arise, and offers education programmes to the public and companies across Hong Kong. "As a world-class organisation, we also form strategic partnerships with international bodies such as the World Trade Organisation and the World Intellectual Property Organisation," Mr Cheung adds. "Therefore, international exposure is very much possible for our solicitors."
He describes the IPD as operating very much as a capacity-building and knowledge transfer mechanism. "From a macro perspective, we're all talking about a global knowledge economy. We must have the value to be creative, the courage to try and the commitment to do."
Knowledge and experience in intellectual property is an advantage but not a prerequisite for candidates. "We hire for attitude," Mr Cheung emphasises. "We now hire from the entry rank and train them up ourselves because we are capable of offering comprehensive training to the right persons."
Those who settle in permanently can expect a fruitful career with the IPD. Besides core competency in its specific divisions, namely advisory, copyright, hearings and registration, aspiring solicitors can also develop horizontally by taking extra responsibilities in another division. One major responsibility for an IPD solicitor is to conduct comparative analyses, especially now that China's development has such a great impact on the world market. "Doing such analytical work gives our solicitors the chance to see the world and meet with senior officials from the Mainland and other countries," Mr Cheung points out.
With a monthly workload of over 2,000 registration applications and several hundred potential hearing cases, IPD's legal staff face constant challenge and work pressure. Now legal head of the department as well as its second in-charge, Mr Cheung takes great satisfaction in the IPD's many accomplishments. "Those who join us have a sense of justice and commitment, and are willing to work hard. We believe that quality outcomes are more important than outputs, and therefore we need quality people with the right attributes. We can then enhance their capacity with specialist skills so that they will help us produce quality and professional outcomes." he remarks.
"We cannot work behind closed doors because intellectual property protection is an international issue. The more we learn about worldwide trends, the better we are at our jobs. Hong Kong has become a role model for the Asia Pacific region, therefore, we must keep on enhancing our competency and continue to break new ground," Mr Cheung stresses.
Of the 19 solicitor posts presently on IPD's establishment, five are directorate posts, six senior solicitors, and the rest juniors. Since the IPD is expanding, new posts are being created and there will be more opportunities for dedicated professionals to join in.
In a bid to attract young talent, trainee solicitors are given opportunities to work in the department, while an internship programme has been set up that welcomes international students. Senior solicitors may also seek cross-departmental development opportunities as they progress. As Mr Cheung points out, "You may even become a judge later in your career. The specialist knowledge you obtain here is value-added and transferable."