Not So Much a Weblog, More a Way of Life

January 1, 2005

What is a weblog?

Weblogs, or “blogs” as they’re known for short, are, according to Wikipedia (, Web applications which contain periodic, reverse chronologically ordered posts on a common Web page. They operate on a wysiwyg system, which means that there is no need for their authors to engage in programming. Their content can be altered or added to quickly and easily, which makes daily updates to blogs a realistic possibility. This quality makes blogging attractive to those with a political axe to grind, people who want to communicate the weird and wonderful things they come across in their everyday lives and those who want to make themselves heard in the big, wide world. However various professionals, including lawyers, have taken note of the ease with which they can be used and their wide geographical reach and are using blogs to communicate with like-minded members of their profession.

What is the IPKat?

The IPKat is the first European weblog dedicated to IP law and its areas of interface with close neighbours such as competition law, privacy and data protection. The blog has continued to furnish between 80 and 120 items a month since it went live in June 2003.

We use the freely available Blogger software to compose the IPKat. Blogger, now owned by Google, has become more sophisticated over time while still providing users with that degree of random unreliability and technical inadequacy that creates the illusion that its users are still somehow pioneers.

Why it came into existence

The authors became aware of the phenomenon of blogging in the late Spring of 2003, when researching the use of trade marks in viral marketing and the role of blogs and other unofficial media in helping spread viral material. It soon became apparent to them that the medium of the blog provided a perfect platform from which they could promulgate their many thoughts and comments on current events in the IP field without submitting them either to the rigours or the stultifying delays imposed by traditional academic legal publication.

A notable inspiration and role model for the IPKat was Marty Schwimmer’s Trademark Blog, which remains today without equal as a single-subject IP blog. In the early days of the IPKat, Marty provided a good deal of technical advice as well as constant moral support that more than made up for the absence of any recognisable readership.


Initially the IPKat was established within formal parameters. News items were to be interspersed with regular monthly features such as Patent of the Month, Book of the Month, Guest Blogger of the Month and so on. Within six months this formality had given way to the realisation that both casual surfers and regular readers are drawn to law sites because of the immediacy of their news coverage and the perceived value of bloggers’ comments on them rather than because of their formal structure.

Content of the IPKat site is now mostly dictated by the affairs of the moment: news of legal decisions from the UK, European courts and tribunals and sometimes from the US. Non-news items also feature. These include notes on recent books, IP journals and issues of IP-specific law reports, together with occasional rants on issues of concern such as the non-availability of English-language versions of European Court of Justice and Court of First Instance decisions.

Most IPKat content is rooted out by the blog’s authors from a variety of favourite sites that include not only the usual official law source sites but The Register, Ananova, the Telegraph, The Times and so on. Increasingly, though, content has reflected material submitted by readers. We retain a high degree of editorial control over items submitted for inclusion and often exclude submitted matter which is interesting because it is not current, as well as that which is current but not interesting.

As a matter of policy the IPKat does not raid other blogs for news, although its authors regularly survey them for content and quality control purposes. All sources are cited, leaving the reader to determine for himself their reliability (or lack of it). Where subscription-only sites are sourced, the IPKat always leaves a link that enables the reader to learn more of the subscription service.

Who reads it?

By December 2004 the IPKat’s site-counter was recording nearly 2,000 visitors a month, which suggests that the blog is read by more people than normally get to see any of the main paper-based IP journals. The average readership has continued to rise over the past year at the rate of around 10 a month. This highlights another advantage of online information distribution: the fact that the IPKat is searchable by Google and other search engines has allowed people who have never come into contact with the authors to discover the site.

From the occasional posted comment and the far more frequent influx of e-mails, we have learned a good deal about the IPKat’s readership. The UK readership includes solicitors, barristers, patent agents, trade mark attorneys, in-house IP experts and students. There is also a demi-monde readership of disaffected government and public officials, official translators, cynics and iconoclasts, not to mention outright opponents of IP.

The blog has become compulsory reading for all members of the University of London‘s LLM course on Industrial and Intellectual Property Law which is taught at the Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute. It is gratifying to note that the blog’s “hits” do not diminish outside term time or after examinations, which suggests either that the students cannot break the habit of reading the IPKat or that they never read it at all.

Although the blog’s content is predominantly European, over 54% of hits emanate from North America, while nearly 43% are from Europe. France, Germany, the Benelux, Spain and Poland are countries in which the IPKat has some of its most enthusiastic and interactive readers.

Who writes it — and why?

The two authors are both academic IP lawyers who have close connections with the Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute. Jeremy is very much a generalist, while Ilanah’s interests focus predominantly on trade mark law. We are both enthusiasts who believe that IP law, whatever its flaws, has many genuine virtues; we are both highly opinionated and are driven by a strong sense of impatience which does not easily tolerate delay in the promulgation of our thoughts, particularly in such a fast-moving area of law. Our views are not always in accord with each other, which is why it frequently happens that one will post an item with comments that the other will openly challenge.

The IPKat is, in essence, a didactic site. Hardly any posted item escapes without the Kat himself making a comment on its relevance or wisdom. This allows the authors to add something which, they hope, is of value in excess of that which appears in the original source of the story. Recently a second “voice” has appeared on the site, the IPKat’s feline friend Merpel. The presence of Merpel allows for a greater range of responses, including contradictory ones, without having to keep resorting to the technique of writing “on the one hand ., but on the other hand .”. The IPKat and Merpel are not intended to reflect, nor do they reflect, the personalities or points of view of the blog’s authors, each of whom use the two webcats at will.

The writing

Both authors are busy people and the IPKat occupies just a small portion of our waking day. A good blog may take no more than 15 minutes from its inception to posting, including time spent identifying humorous or background information links.

The urge to blog is a strong one and both of us feel unfulfilled if, by the end of the day, we have not added to the IPKat’s contents.

The economics

Unfortunately you can’t make money out of blogging. Lawyers who have tried it as a means of attracting clientele have pretty uniformly been in agreement on this point. There is also no obvious income stream to be derived from making freely available the comments and opinions one might otherwise be able to sell, though some blogging software offers the possibility of hosting paid-for advertising on the resultant Web sites. The main benefits to the IPKat’s authors so far have been a rise in their personal profiles, the occasional invitation to other people’s events and equally occasional invitations to perform other services for free.

It is nonetheless the authors’ contention that a blog can be a brand. The IPKat looks forward to being able to endorse IP conferences and seminars and perhaps one day to organise its own. The publication of paper copy is also an option. While the IPKat blog can provide an excellent publicity platform for such enterprises, there is no model that suggests that it will be more than marginally helpful to them.

The authors are co-directors and authors of the IPKat weblog ( and Jeremy Phillips is IP consultant to Slaughter and May; Ilanah Simon is a Doctoral Associate, Queen Mary Intellectual Property Research Institute.