23 Sep 2021

Welcome to Associations Week


Lee Davies, Founder of Associations Week


A big, big thank you to my colleagues and friends at memcom for making my half-cocked dream a reality. Associations Week is really important to me. In three decades working in senior leadership roles in membership organisations, I have had the pleasure of working with some amazing people. In marketing. In administration. In finance. In publishing. In education. In IT. They have come from many and varied backgrounds and found themselves working in the (often crazy) world of associations.


I have worked with some extraordinary volunteers. Presidents. Chairs. Council members. Committee members. Tutors. Examiners. Treasurers. Editors. Mentors. Governors. Lay members. They never set out to undertake those roles. They volunteered to give something back to their professional communities. They bring skills, knowledge and commitment to the leadership and organisation of associations and we are better off for their engagement.


Employees or volunteers, people ARE membership associations. Associations are, quite rightly, closely aligned to the interests of their members. Association leaders see themselves as ‘in engineering’, ‘in legal services’, ‘in medicine’, etc. Rarely do they see themselves as association professionals. Associations Week challenges that; it asks senior leaders to value their people as association professionals; it asks association leaders to measure accomplishments as the combined efforts of the people who make them happen


I imagine most, if not all, associations are looking back over the last twelve to eighteen months with mixed emotions. I certainly have a huge feeling of pride that the people at CIPA, my amazing staff team and committed volunteers, were more than equal to the challenge of keeping the show on the road throughout the pandemic. We maintained business as near to normal as we could and also demonstrated our creativity and ingenuity as we moved activities online and introduced new benefits and services to members at pace. That feeling of satisfaction is however, tempered with one of nervousness that we are not yet out of the woods and our world is far from certain. I take comfort in the fact that I work with an enthusiastic, dedicated and talented group of people who will continue to go the extra mile.


I feel most for my senior volunteers, in particular CIPA’s President, who should have enjoyed a year of advocating on behalf of the profession and representing CIPA at high-profile events, at home and abroad. Instead, Alicia found herself dealing with the pandemic at a time when it was critically important for CIPA to be representing its members on a number of fronts, brought about by the UK leaving the European Union, and embarking on trade deals and negotiations with other trading blocs with potential consequences for CIPA’s members. As I put my thoughts together here, I have just seen Alicia in person for the first time in eighteen months. Extraordinary.


Associations Week is a celebration of the people who make membership organisations the brilliant places they are to belong and to work. Without naming names, as all of my people are stars, I thought I would reflect on some of our achievements. On the advocacy and policy fronts, we have worked long and hard on behalf of CIPA’s members. It has been tough. The Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and the UK, sliding through the backdoor between Christmas and the New Year, meant great uncertainty for CIPA’s members, who represent clients from the UK and around the world before the European Patent Office (EPO). Achieving certainty on the application of the Schengen visa waiver for this work was a great success story.


CIPA naturally supports the Government’s ambitious international trade agenda and we have been working closely with the Department for International Trade on the intellectual property aspects of potential agreements. This is important work as some agreements, in particular existing trading blocs, have the potential to introduce elements which might prove to be inconsistent with the UK’s existing obligations, such as membership of the European Patent Convention (EPC). Whilst our work here is not yet complete, our campaign to remind the Government of its international obligations and the importance of the EPC to the UK’s economy has been successful.


The pandemic brought with it a real threat to access to justice. With the main seats of the EPO being situated in Munich and The Hague, attention quickly turned to hearings via videoconferencing, or ViCo as we came to know it. CIPA quickly embarked on training its members in ViCo hearings, ensuring they were well placed to make the most of this new world. ViCo also lent itself to much of CIPA’s international work, with visits to sister organisations around the globe being replaced by Zoom (other ViCo solutions are available). This was a steep learning curve for staff and members alike.


Of course, the online environment was to prove to be our saviour in various ways. An early casualty of the pandemic was the qualifying examinations for UK patent attorneys, set annually by CIPA’s Patent Examination Board (PEB). In just a few months and starting from a position of absolutely no knowledge or experience, the staff and volunteers involved in the examination system pulled off something close to impossible. It was a magnificent effort to move the examinations online, virtually snag-free, in such a ridiculously short timeframe.


There is a great tradition of providing webinars for members at CIPA, thankfully. As our programme of seminars and regional meetings collapsed, staff and volunteers moved quickly to recreate these as webinars for members, often two or three webinars a week. This enabled members to maintain access to continuing professional development (CPD) and created a sense of ‘business as usual’. Shifting a seminar programme online would be a big enough challenge for my small (but perfectly formed) membership team, but they also run CIPA’s flagship conference programme, including our annual Congress and Paralegal Conference. These both took place online, moving from a standing start to a full digital conference inside six months. One year on, we have just held our second online CIPA Congress, on an improved digital platform and with speakers on ViCo from around the world.


The pandemic gave us opportunities, such as the time and the space to take a step back and think again about CIPA’s brand identity. It was always in the workplan to think about a new website, the pandemic afforded us both the need and the time to attend to it. The result is, in my opinion, simply stunning. CIPA now has an online identity befitting its members, who are at the leading edge of technological development and innovation. It also means a shiny new logo (spot the difference) and spangly colour palette.


The social element has always been a big part of belonging to and working for CIPA. No one does member ‘happy hours’ quite like us. Replicating that during the stringent restrictions that come with lockdown was not easy. We did quizzes, cocktail making, wine tasting and even our very own version of Taskmaster. I know these went down well with members, reinforcing that CIPA is all about that sense of community, even in the most difficult of times. We also launched our very first podcast, Two IPs In A Pod. We had talked about it for years but could never find the time.


There are many more highlights I could list. It demonstrates the power of a membership association. Confronted with an existential threat, we innovated and grafted our way through it, because of our people. Membership associations, particularly professional bodies, can appear to be organisational megaliths, all infrastructure, systems and processes. The very best are not. The very best are communities with a shared purpose, where people come together, paid and voluntarily, to make a difference. Associations Week is an opportunity to say thank you to those people. So, thank you. Thank you all.


Associations Week takes place 27-30 September. Find out how you can get involved here.