Tim Lince

In an exclusive interview with World Trademark Review, the CEO of the International Trademark Association (INTA) speaks about its increased activity in the anti-counterfeiting arena, and expands on current and future activities in this regard. He also notes that partnerships are being sought with other IP and non-IP organisations, but only when there is “mutual respect” between the parties.

INTA has seemingly stepped up its activity in the anti-counterfeiting space over the past year. As well as its recent event in Hong Kong dedicated to anti-counterfeiting, the programme of this year’s Annual Meeting includes dedicated anti-counterfeiting activities on the Friday and Saturday. When asked by World Trademark Review whether our observation of increased activity reflects the reality, INTA CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo confirmed that there has been an increase – but it is a trend not limited to anti-counterfeiting. “It is true that we have become more active in terms of anti-counterfeiting activity,” Sanz de Acedo says. “However, I would say that we haven't become active just in anti-counterfeiting matters, but over the past three or four years we have been more active on almost all fronts. What is driving that push is the need of our members, and we are doing our best to meet the growing expectation of our members – and thankfully we have the resources to do that.”

Non-anti-counterfeiting developments mentioned as a sign of INTA’s rising ambition include the new Singapore branch office, the upcoming new Latin America office and the new committee structure that introduced committees on unfair competition, rights of publicity and design. But it is anti-counterfeiting matters that have been most noticeably increased, even from a committee perspective. Sanz de Acedo said that the anti-counterfeiting committee is “one of the largest” at the association and currently has 272 members from across the world, with 72 corporations represented amongst them. The committee’s work in the past 12 months, he adds, has been across a number of important areas – but the common thread is one of an increased global presence.

“They’ve been looking more closely into customs and border protections, into criminal enforcement, and into online counterfeiting and small consignments,” Sanz de Acedo explained. “Where INTA is particularly strong is that it has a presence in over 200 countries, and we have interaction with officials in almost all of these countries. That gives us a great opportunity to influence change in regulations, it also gives us a lot of intelligence in what is happening worldwide. That really helps us in developing position papers and resolutions, introducing policy dialogues, making comments to regulations, identifying best practices and being able to share that with other regions of the world.”

A number of those issues will no doubt be discussed at next month’s INTA Annual Meeting, with a number of related sessions and meetings planned throughout the event. For example, on the Saturday there is a full-day workshop entitled “The Key to Success Against the Crime of Counterfeiting”, which will bring together in-house teams, government officials and other key partners to identify best practices in the fight against fakes. There are also two preparatory workshops scheduled in for the Friday, which Sanz de Acedo expands on: “We launched the all-day anti-counterfeiting workshop last year, and it was extremely popular with around 150 to 160 attendees (which we had to cap there because we wanted the discussions to be lively). But we got feedback from our members that they wanted a little more, so we arranged the Friday afternoon closed-door workshops – one for brand owners and one for government officials –  to prepare for the main workshop on Saturday. That's the rationale behind it anyway, and I'd say it's the natural growth of our activities based on the demand we've got from our members."

The introduction of more sessions and workshops is a logical step for an event that continues to attract more attendees every year. However, the anti-counterfeiting focus on the Friday (along with the two closed-door workshops, there is also half-day customs training on Friday morning for 50 in-house participants) is notable because the International Anticounterfeiting Coalition (IACC) will be holding its annual Spring Meeting at the same time. The IACC event traditionally runs on the Thursday and Friday before INTA’s Annual Meeting, so on paper there appears to be an overlap. However, Sanz de Acedo disagrees, stressing that “the offerings are complementary”. He expands: “Counterfeiting is a priority for brand owners, no matter which organisation you sit in, and we are here to serve brand owners and IP professionals. Furthermore, we always look forward to cooperate and to partner with other organisations. We might not share the same cultures or values, we might want to do things a little different, but that doesn't mean that on some matters we cannot work together.”

On this, he states that INTA is looking to partner with more organisations going forward: “We are looking forward to forging new partnerships in the future, especially with consumer associations and marketing organisations. So while we may not always view things in the same way, from a substantive perspective we are prepared to work together, provided there is mutual respect. That is something that INTA pays a lot of attention to, and we ensure that we are very respectful to all other IP organisations and non-IP organisations we engage with.”

Such co-operation will enable INTA to expand its reach, and the resounding message from our conversation with Sanz de Acedo is the rising internationalisation of INTA – although he doesn’t like to term it that way. “I actually prefer the word ‘global’ to ‘international’,” he states, adding that he has travelled the breadth of the planet in the first few months of 2017, including visits to China and India and with an upcoming Latin America trip next month before the Annual Meeting kicks off in Barcelona. “We are already a strong international organisation, but what we are seeing today is INTA becoming more and more global and we are very proud of that. So yes, we are doing more on the anti-counterfeiting front and we will continue to do so from a global perspective – our members are demanding that we continue to go down this track, and we will.”

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