Intellectual Property, Patents, Technology, United Kingdom / Great Britain

Conflicts of Interest Are Just Classier With English Accents

Sir Robin and clerks [File Photo]

The “revolving door” between government service and the private sector often raises eyebrows. Regulators drawn from high-paying jobs in the industry, only to return to their old gigs after a few years of writing the rules just feels wrong to most people. Larry Lessig even created some Venn diagrams to illustrate the extent of the problem.

The revolving door problem afflicts the UK as well, but they just ignore it by pretending that their classy accents will distract everyone from the glaring conflicts.

Like Sir Robin Jacob, a former Lord Justice who takes advantage of a quirk of the UK legal system to continue adjudicating cases even after his 2011 retirement. The judge once laid a smackdown on Apple for mistreating Samsung.

Guess where he works now?

Spoiler alert: It rhymes with “Hambung.” What exactly is going on here and is this really OK?

So to recap, the Bravely Bold Sir Robin presided over a patent dispute between Apple and Samsung. Apple lost and was ordered to make a public apology to Samsung for accusing the latter company of stealing intellectual property. The order even detailed the font Apple had to use. Well, Apple did exactly what you’d expect from a company obsessed with being “cooler than thou” and wrote a snarky apology, noting that Samsung’s technology “do[es] not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design. They are not as cool.”

Sir Robin channeled Queen Victoria’s lack of amusement and flipped out on Apple and ordered them to rewrite the apology. Apple looked like a bunch of aloof dicks and Samsung was vindicated.

Fast forward just a couple months and guess what happened. Sir Robin, an expert in IP law who was all this time a retired judge after all, is now working for Samsung as an expert in another matter against Ericsson.

No one denies his qualifications, and no one suggests that this job represents some sort of quid pro quo for his ruling last Fall. But it seems a little awkward to start working for a litigant so quickly after you ruled in their favor. Check that — it seems a little awkward to start working for a litigant so quickly after you publicly humiliated their opponent.

Is this barred under UK law? Not at all. And maybe that’s a good thing. In fact, the common argument in favor of the revolving door system is that the most highly qualified experts that a government would want regulating an the industry are probably working in the industry as a matter of rational economic behavior. There’s also a more complex argument that the system invites harsher regulation as the government official signals just how necessary they’ll be to navigating the new harsh legal landscape. Not sure I buy that, but it’s an argument. Sir Robin is an internationally renowned expert in patent law and exactly the kind of guy Samsung would want as an advisor.

Is this a less than savvy public relations move by Samsung? Absolutely. When the judge’s decision was already scrutinized as inappropriately slanted toward Samsung, turning around and handing him consulting fees does not help convince the masses that Samsung really had an open-and-shut case.

But putting aside the specific case of Sir Robin, if I’m ever in front of a judge in the UK, I’m going to make sure I have fat rolls of cash spilling out of my pockets. You never know if the judge might be looking for a new job.

Court Didn’t Find Apple’s Non-Apology Apology to Samsung Very Cute [The Atlantic Wire]
UK Judge Who Issued Extreme Ruling for Samsung Against Apple Hired By…Samsung! [Foss Patents]

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