Oddfellow March 2019

J.A. McStea, Teemacs GmbH

With apologies to Stephen Foster…

O, de Kemptthal chemists sing dis song…
Hoo-hah! Hoo-hah!
De Kemptthal site is 1 K long
Tryin’ with all their might
To bring without delay
A whole new battery o’smells an’ tastes
All rivals to dismay

Bubendorf, 8 March 2019

So, here we are, in our new abode. De Kemptthal site is actually 1 K long, stretching along the narrow valley of the River Kempt. There is no actual village Kemptthal, it’s the name of the site (an old Maggi factory, bought by Givaudan from Nestlé in the early 2000s). It even has its own railway station. The site is under Denkmalschutz, the Swiss equivalent of the National Trust, as a unique bit of Swiss industrial architecture, meaning that the exteriors of the buildings cannot be altered, but they can be changed internally. I think the local area is hoping for a sort of Silicon Valley, and some non-Givaudan tenants have already signed up. The patent department will live in a repurposed building right next to the ZIC (Zürich Innovation Centre), one of two new buildings on the site.

And what a new building! An all-singing, all-dancing, state-of-the-art-and-then-some R&D lab. “You guys are building a mall!” said one astonished visitor. And that is what it looks like – a large atrium complete with greenery columns and surrounded by labs rather than shops. The labs have glass walls, so the lab folk will be working in a goldfish bowl. This is as much a showpiece as it is a working lab. Being largely a fragrance lab, the biggest expense was the ventilation system. It all looks stunningly gorgeous and avant-garde, but the proof of the pudding, etc., etc. One consequence of the showpiece aspect is that everyone is expected to look terribly scientific, lab coats all the time, no potted plants in the labs, no making tea or coffee (there’s a coffee bar on the ground floor). These rules are supposed also to apply to our building, but the person who tries to stop me making a decent cup of tea will be recognisable by the jug-shaped dent in his head.

The moving operation started on 28 January, after weeks of preparation that left the corridors of Dübendorf full of boxes, crates and miscellaneous lab gear. It made me think of the ancient western TV series Rawhide (notable for giving a young Clint Eastwood his first major role), where, at the end of each episode, and just before Frankie Laine burst forth with the title song, the trail boss shouts, “Head ‘em up! Move ‘em out!”. Bit by bit the labs emptied, so that, to the Patent Department, which was the last to go, it felt a bit like Agatha Christie’s ten little, er, African boys. And on the 25th February at 13.00, it was our turn. And then there were none.

One aspect of the move was a massive throwing out of old stuff that was kept “just in case”, or out of simple inertia. One thing I found was a collection of IPTA newsletters dating back to the time when we first arrived in Swizzieland in 1990. This included every “Oddfellow” column ever produced. So, out of sentimentality, I rescued them. Why? Who knows? One day, I may produce a collected edition, perfect for anyone who has a desk with a leg that short, or as a handy supply of firelighters.

As I write, the Brexit business is now only 3 weeks away. The whole business is a devastating example of the utter failure of the “chumocracy” as The Economist described the UK’s method of government. All of these spiffing public school/Oxbridge chap(esse)s have proved to be totally incompetent, not to mention amazingly greedy, self-serving and downright dishonest  – as my old Dulux mate Goldy would have said, incapable of managing a country dunny. Everyone talks about the dysfunctional US Administration – one wonders whether the disease actually crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower.

My personal concern is not with England – if they want to make a mess of things, that’s their concern, but it’s unfair that Ireland should be a casualty of this train wreck. But then, I think, England has been making a mess of Ireland for the last 800-odd years, so why should it stop now? An old university friend lives in Tyrone, a predominantly agricultural community that borders on That Other Bit Of Ireland, and they are really unhappy. The amount of cross-border trade and production has skyrocketed since the Good Friday Agreement brought peace and made the border essentially the same as the border between Australian states. Apparently one milk-based product crosses the border seven times before it is finished. The reintroduction of customs checks and border controls would bring chaos. Worse, it is a step away from the Republican/Nationalist dream of a reunited Ireland (Partition celebrates, if that’s the word, its centenary in 2022), and it could bring a return of “The Troubles”. There remain Republican factions still wedded to the romantic notion of the gun and the bomb, and there will be Loyalist factions only too ready to return fire.

The UK IP world is in a bit of a tizz about Brexit, which is why CIPA is loudly banging the drum about the brilliance of the UK profession and why it is necessary to use its services. Of course, as yet, we have no decision from the German Constitutional Court as to the challenge from Ingve Stjerna on the constitutionality of Germany’s signing up to the UPC. Only when that is settled and Germany has ratified can the court proceed. But will it? And will the UK be in it? These questions remain to be resolved. As is the question of what happens to the UK part of EU trade marks. The proposed answer is that the UK part become automatically a separate UK registration, without the proprietor having to do anything. The UK Government has stated that there will be no loss of rights. What form this will take remains to be seen.

There is one aspect of the Brexit affair that has not received a lot of attention. The UK is a member, not only of the EU, but also of the EEA (European Economic Area), which includes the non-EU members of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. If the UK leaves the EU, does it also leave the EEA? As Sportin’ Life would have it, it ain’t necessarily so. And if the UK remains an EEA member, does this mean that it can have its cake and eat it? However, the basic principle of the EEA is the free movement of labour, goods and services within the single European market, and the UK’s Brexiteers would certainly take umbrage at the first-named, as they want the power to keep out funny foreigners and their perfidious ways.

Did you see that the Irish Supermac hamburger chain succeeded in invalidating the McDonald’s BIG MAC EUTM on the grounds of non-use? Having grown up with the younger ladies who were partial to the products of the golden arches, I couldn’t figure out how this could possibly be. However, it was largely on the basis of the evidence being presented by McDonald’s being entirely internal – no third-party evidence whatsoever. I find it baffling that this could be so, and especially that the prominent German Patentanwalt firm representing McDonald’s did it. Back in my Dulux days, Dulux was the licensee of The Benjamin Foster Company (now a subsidiary of H.B. Fuller), THE name in thermal insulation coatings (for pipes, tanks and the like). Everyone in the industry knew that Foster coatings was the top brand. However, when we tried to register FOSTER, the Trade Marks Office cited the Melbourne telephone directory under “F” and told us to go away. So, we prepared declarations, five per state, if I recall correctly, and we had specialised applicators in those states attest to the fact that FOSTER used in conjunction with thermal insulating coatings invariably meant The Benjamin Foster Company. And we got it in Part B of the Register.

I’m sure that McDonald’s will get it right on appeal, but while BIG MAC might be able to be rescued for sandwiches, what about the Class 42 mark? To the best of my knowledge, there has been no bona fide use of BIG MAC on restaurants. And this may let in the Irish whose desired entry into the European market has been stymied by McDonald’s opposition. How are the mighty fallen.

My mother will be 95 on Easter Sunday, and I’m going back for the party, driving to Cherbourg and taking the ferry to Dublin. That way, I avoid the UK motorway network, which is usually (a) under construction, (b) full of cars or more usually (c) both. From Dublin, it’s only 90 minutes by rather nice motorway to Belfast. This will be post-Brexit. At the moment, the only indications that you have crossed a border are a sign saying that the indicated speeds are now in miles per hour and the absence of Irish from the signs. (Irish road signs are bilingual, as the Irish are well aware that Irish, nice-sounding language that it is, is totally incomprehensible to the rest of the human race. My satnav voice is an Irish feminine one. Her name is Niamh. That, believe it or not, is pronounced “Neeve”. Who would have thought?). So, what will I encounter on the motorway between Dundalk and Newry? Should I assume my best Schwyzerdytsch accent and claim diplomatic immunity? Watch This Space…


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