Meet our DRS Experts: Tony Willoughby

March 6, 2018

Tony qualified as a solicitor in 1970 and worked in the Trade Marks Department of The Distillers Company Limited (now part of Diageo) until joining Herbert Smith in 1973. He became a partner in 1977 and remained there until 1994. He left to join Rouse & Co (later Willoughby & Partners) and was a partner at the firm until April 2006. He is now retired. Specialising in all aspects of IP law, Tony has acted in a variety of leading reported IP cases and is a UDRP panellist for WIPO. He was the inaugural Chairman of Experts for Nominet upon establishment of the DRS.

When and why did you join Nominet’s DRS?

I first came across Nominet in about 1995 in relation to a dispute between a client of mine and another company. My client had been awarded a domain name by the Naming Committee, Nominet’s predecessor. When they tried to connect their website to the domain name, they found it had been reallocated to the other company. By then Nominet was in existence and reallocated the domain name to my client. The other company was not happy and sued both my client and Nominet …. and lost! I was then asked to be an independent adjudicator under the previous ADR regime, then appointed Chairman of Experts upon the introduction of the DRS in 2001. I helped with the selection and training of the first group of Experts.

What has changed during your time as an Expert?

The wording of the DRS Policy/Procedure has changed from time to time to address various issues that have cropped up over the years. Initially, appeals were heard by me (if available) and the next two experts in the cab rank. One of the changes in procedure was to establish an Appeal Panel of six of the more experienced experts who, in addition to hearing appeals, review the decisions of the experts before they are finalised and published. This has resulted in greater consistency of decisions. Indeed, the quality of decisions has improved significantly over the years.

What have you learnt from this work?

Why judges always seemed to be so bad tempered. As soon as I started adjudicating disputes I felt some sympathy for them. I was astounded at the poor quality of so many of the complaints, even those drafted by professionals! Even now it is plain that many do not take advantage of the significant guidance available on the Nominet website.

What do you enjoy about working for Nominet in this way?

The contrast with my erstwhile day job as a litigation solicitor. The rigour that one has to apply to writing a decision, which will be published at large. The need to get it right. Also, the fun and support evident in the collegiate atmosphere at events such as the Experts’ Meeting.

Why did you end up working in IP?

My first job after I qualified was as a lawyer in the Trade Marks department of a whisky company. I never looked back.

How has the world of IP changed during your career?

In so many ways that it is difficult to deal with ‘off-the-cuff’. The introduction of European Law, which has resulted in changes to all the IP statutes that I grew up with in the 1970s/80s. Changes in court procedure, some of which have been beneficial and some of which have not. A major change for young IP lawyers now is how rarely they ever get into court. This is partly down to the procedural changes but partly also to the fact that when I started there were only about six English law firms seriously engaged in the field, whereas nowadays almost every commercial firm seems to sport an IP department. Moreover, it is probably the case that companies now receive better IP advice, thereby reducing the frequency of infringement. In the 70s and first half of the 80s I used to be in court two or three times a week.

What are your other interests away from your professional commitments?

Family and friends. Music. Also, I’m a volunteer guide at Westminster Abbey, which is possibly the most rewarding job I have ever held. Unlike the law, your ‘clients’ pay before they meet you and it’s difficult to disappoint in that place.

What technological advancement are you most looking forward to having?

A robot to help me with the gardening. Trains that are always on time.

View the full list of our DRS experts and read more about the service here.