James & Wells may have been founded in 1979, at a time when the existing IP law firms in New Zealand were about to enjoy their centerary celebrations, but as a new boy on the block, the firm has puts its stamp very firmly on the IP market in this country.
At the time of its founding, IP law was a lucrative business that principally involved the protection of trademarks and other IP property by global businesses protecting their brands.
The work was largely transactional and tended to come in the door regardless of effort.
The work came mainly, but not exclusively, from Waikato University. The firm had no international presence, no money and few clients.
With seven principals and close to 30 lawyers spread across four offices, the firm operates under a patent law and a general law partnership, the firm now brands itself as the major IP firm acting for kiwi clients.
Despite the growth of the firm’s international client base and its Asian division, the bulk of the work is with local clients and Australasian-based businesses who make up roughly 70 per cent of the client-base.
The firm is the sole New Zealand agent for currently the largest filer of New Zealand patent applications, ResMed Limited (a medical device developer and manufacturer jointly listed on the US and Australian stock exchanges). Other local companies the firm represents include Cookie Time, Kokako, Ubco and Heilala Vanilla.
Internationally, James & Wells act for a range of large and small companies, examples being Lely, Bayer, United States Gysum (USG) and Plantation Grown Timbers (PGT).
The firm’s patent attorneys have scientific and technical qualifications in all major areas of science and engineering, while our trade mark attorneys and lawyers have experience advising clients across a broad range of business sectors.
This allows the firm to act for clients in a variety of industries – agribusiness, health technology, food and beverage, clean technology, biotechnology, chemical, electronics and ICT software to name just a few.
Tools Used to Grow the Business
James & Wells’ Christchurch office was hit like so many others by the 2011 earthquakes, relying solely on the remote access of electronic files.
The firm was quick to see that the system would benefit the whole firm and since the quakes it has developed a firm-wide shift to the paperless system, which has proven both more efficient and cost effective.
Paper files are an effective method for maintaining client records, but they also consume vast amounts of space and time, as well as being slow to access, cumbersome and a security risk in the event of removal from the office environment.
The instant access of electronic files via a secure internet connection is clearly superior and coupled with high speed access and accuracy of document location it creates faster, more efficient and cost effective client service.
Handling the Competition
The New Zealand market is competitive with prices being driven down by increased access to information on IP, better education, and more IP service providers in New Zealand and overseas who are able to service New Zealand clients remotely.
Although there are just a handful of specialist New Zealand firms in the IP space, any firm here now needs to also compete with Australian firms also.
J&W have handled that issue by developing expertise in both countries, which has meant many of their attorneys are dual-qualified.
But the firm also works on having key points of difference from its competitors like AJ Park or Baldwins, two of the heavyweight IP law contenders in the New Zealand market.
The ‘style’ of the firm is regarded as “irreverent” and they like to see themselves, as a spokesperson said, as “far from traditional”
They are, for instance, the only New Zealand IP firm with a bilingual Asia division and the only one with a specialist Food and Beverage Innovation Team and we an in-house litigation team.
There is also the “X factor” that helps set the firm apart. The ‘style’ of the firm is regarded as “irreverent” and they like to see themselves, as a spokesperson said, as “far from traditional”.
They have developed with their ‘less traditional’ attitude that sees them working more as business partners rather than lawyers in the usual sense.
The approach has resonated with local businesses and international clients rather than simply relying on size or prominence as testament to the quality of their work or their market position.
In recent times, for instance, they have dealt with the largest trade mark case in recent years; the first hearings on key issues under the new “Raising the Bar” amendments to the Australian Patents Act; and the first test of key provisions within the Copyright Act concerning border protection measures, in the High Court.
Having a sizeable team permits flexibility on substantial litigation work and major disputes, as well as permitting speedy advice.
From its one-man-band commencement 37 years ago in Hamilton, the firm has established offices in Auckland, Tauranga and Christchurch to provide a localised service to New Zealand clients.
In recent years the growth of the firm has been enabled by building a client base of significant multinational companies, including the largest filers of patent applications in New Zealand over the last decade.
But continued growth is key and in the past three years there have been some major changes with the re-launch of the brand and website, the move of the Auckland team from Ellerslie to Newmarket and the development of services such as the three specialist teams including an Asia Division, Food and Beverage Innovation Team and Commercial Law Practice.
“We are still the only major IP firm with an office in Christchurch having been there for over 15 years,” the spokesman said.
“As of last year, food and beverage businesses selling products in New Zealand and Australia need to comply with Standard 1.2.7 regulating nutrition and health claims. When the Standard was introduced, we saw an opportunity for Kiwi businesses to use the new regulations to their advantage.
“As part of our wider Food and Beverage Innovation Team offering, we have established the health claims advisory service. Our team provides strategic advice on how to maximise the value of health claims for clients’ current and future products, enabling them to leverage the IP assets through their branding, packaging and advertising.”
The Foundation Partner
Ceri Wells, the firmi’s foundation partner, is the driving force behind the Asia Division and works alongside the Head of Division, Johnathan Chen, to lead educational workshops and establish business networks for the benefit of our clients.
The team’s contacts in Asia, and expertise and knowledge of Asian business practices and IP laws, enable the firm to identify business opportunities, negotiate contracts and produce dual language legal documents.
How Susan Hornby-Geluk grew her employment law practice – Read here
How Claro Law Pioneered a national niche in medical law – Read Here
Mark Copeland’s journey in building a successful provincial law firm – with global clients – Read Here
Paul Grimshaw’s litigation boutique law firm has grown substantially and carved a national reputation for its work as a “plaintiff’s law firm” – Read Here