Tim Lince

Orlando is currently packed to the rafters with trademark lawyers attending INTA’s 2016 Annual Meeting. Over 10,000 are in attendance for this year’s event, and there is a full programme of sessions, table topics and, of course, receptions for attendees to enjoy. We have a full World Trademark Review team on the ground, and you can meet many of them at stand 1415-1417 in the exhibition hall. Reporters Tim Lince (TL), Jacob Schindler (JS) and Cassie Lam (CL) present some of their highlights from the first full day of the event, while Lam also provides her insights as someone attending the INTA Annual Meeting for the very first time…

INTA yesterday, today and tomorrow - The opening ceremony on Sunday afternoon was held in a packed auditorium, and featured talk about Taylor Swift, Batman, Harry Potter and, naturally, an update on INTA’s activities in the last 12 months. INTA CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo spoke about the record-breaking registration number at this year’s Annual Meeting (which we reported on in more detail here) and the rising membership at the organisation itself (currently at 31,727). He also talked about various benchmarks set by the organisation, including the “extremely successful” Leadership Meeting in Panama last November and the upcoming INTA event in Africa that will be “a starting point to do more in that region”. He listed INTA’s key challenges in the future, including harmonisation of registration procedures (“we need a consistent, reliable registration experience, no matter where you are”), plain packaging (“it is tobacco today, but where is it going to go tomorrow?”) and education of trademarks to the wider public (“we have lawmakers who sometimes don’t understand the benefit of strong IP protection”).

He concluded his 15-minute speech with a broader look at the future, saying: “We are living in a changing world of failing economies, political instability and climate change, and in a changing society of millennials, generation Z and baby boomers. … we may also be facing the fourth industrial revolution; which includes innovations such as the internet of things, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Does all of that affect INTA? Of course it does; anything that affects our members, affects our organisation. So we need to look at our next strategic plan (for 2018-2021) and ensure we are forward-thinking. We must consult all of our members, the board, the INTA staff, the IP community and even the non-IP community, such as lawmakers, marketers and consumers. We need to listen and learn from them all.” (TL)

What’s in a personal brand? - Current INTA president Ronald van Tuijl gave an address during the opening ceremony focused on personal branding. He opened on a subject that will be very familiar to most of the audience: Taylor Swift. “The best brands make a personal connection to their audiences, and Taylor Swift connects to her fans on a very personal basis - and personally interacts with them on and offline,” van Tuijl said, with huge photos of Swift hanging on screens above him. “Her generosity and goodwill are a huge part of her brand - and she knows personal branding is part of everyday business. People buy from people they like and trust. Many of you in Orlando are marketing a product, service and, above all, yourselves. If you can't sell yourself, I won’t buy you or anything you’re offering to sell.”

His ultimate pitch was that, if the entire trademark community takes an inward look at themselves and pledges to improve their ‘personal brand’, then it will go on to help the community, and INTA, as a whole. “Your reputation is your most prized asset - protect it,” he urged. “For private practitioners, you are marketing yourself when you pitch to a client. Your personal brand may be the reason a client selects your firm over another. For in-house counsel, your reputation, network and relevance will dictate the success of your career path and external opportunities for you and your company. So improving your personal brand is good for companies, firms and your own career - and it is also good for associations and the entire IP community. Imagine what we can accomplish if we all work on our personal brands.” He ended by drilling home his point by saying that, while attendees “won’t remember everything said today”, they will “remember I was wearing a tuxedo - and that’s an example of good personal branding”. (TL)

Superhero insights - It was a Hollywood ending to the day’s opening ceremony as keynote speaker Diane Nelson shared her insights from managing storied franchises including Harry Potter and the DC Comics universe of characters. As president of no fewer than three separate entities focused on content generation and licensing – DC Entertainment, Warner Bros Consumer Products and Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment – Nelson has a lot on her plate, but she clearly has a lot of time for the professionals that help her organisation protect its IP. “You can’t be in a company like Warner Bros and not thoroughly understand the importance of intellectual property”, she noted, saying there were no better business partners than her legal colleagues. One of the key challenges Nelson faces is protecting a multitude of brands at different levels of her organisation: there’s the DC brand itself, individual films and games, as well as a slew of characters who have appeared in iterations going back decades (including Superman, Batman and Wonderwoman). The connections aren’t always clear to consumers, and Nelson said one of the greatest frustrations of her role is consistently coming across the misperception that DC’s flagship Superman and Batman franchises are actually part of the Marvel universe.

Of course, Nelson works in an industry in which fans are truly fanatics – she pointed out, somewhat jokingly, that INTA was unlike most conventions that she attends because most people aren’t in costume. That also raises sticky issues when it comes to balancing between allowing fans to show their appreciation through art and stories and protecting the company’s trademarks and copyright. For example, after Warner Bros acquired the rights to Harry Potter in 1998, she said, “We decided early on that we had to incorporate the sense of fans having ownership while also protecting our marks”, not to mention navigating the challenges of the still-emergent online space (she pointed out the company acquired the Harry Potter rights in the same year that Google was born). Though DC’s characters and brands have long been iconic in North America, the work to promote and protect them in other parts of the world continues. Nelson credited Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films along with recent Marvel blockbusters as contributing to an interest in superheroes in markets that haven’t previously embraced them like Europe and Asia. That trend will bring plenty of continued challenges for the IP superheroes looking after DC. (JS)

Madrid expansion - The significant interest in the development of the Madrid System was demonstrated on Sunday morning with a packed room in attendance for the Madrid System Users’ Meeting. WIPO’s senior director of the Madrid Registry, David Muls, revealed that the United States is now the leading country of origin for international trademarks, thanks to an 11% growth rate in the past year. Furthermore, he also revealed that the biggest Madrid filer from the US is tech giant Apple. Looking ahead, the hope is that both Canada and South Africa will be new Madrid members in 2018 – and, beyond that, Latin American countries are most “needed” in the next decade, Muls added, because that region “is the big question as to whether the Madrid System will become global - and INTA has a role to make it happen”. In the meantime, if attendees have any questions about the Madrid System, Muls reminded the audience that WIPO representatives are on call at the WIPO booth (301) in the main exhibition hall. (TL)

OEM challenges - The first full day of sessions at INTA always crystallises what the key topics of discussion are going to be throughout the conference. In the case of China-watchers, one issue clearly stands out – trademark use by Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). A spotlight was thrown on this issue in November 2015, when the Supreme People’s Court, China’s highest, ruled on a case involving the brand PRETUL. In brief, the court decided that OEM use of a trademark on goods bound for export cannot be trademark infringement, because that use could not indicate the origin of the goods for Chinese consumers. At both Wan Hui Da’s annual review of Chinese trademark developments and the official session hosted by the China Trademark Association, practitioners pointed out that most foreign rights holders are deeply ambivalent about the ruling. For those who are victims of trademark squatting, it means that the resulting legal fight won’t necessarily disrupt their global supply chain if they manufacture goods for export in China.

On the other hand, if manufacture and immediate export don’t constitute ‘use’, it could open a door for counterfeiters to avoid customs seizures. But more recent developments suggest that, in the words of one practitioner, this state of affairs “may not be stable”. A Jiangsu court subsequently ruled that manufacturers do have a duty of care to make sure that their output is not infringing third parties’ IP rights, suggesting that judgments in such cases may ultimately come down to good or bad faith. Given the number of global companies that rely on a manufacturing base in China, there are few fence-sitters in the discussion, and there is plenty at stake. It’s sure to be one of the most closely watched issues between now and the next annual meeting. (JS)

'.sucks' mischief - Fresh from causing a stir at last year’s Annual Meeting in San Diego with '.sucks'-branded condoms and a sign being transported around the city declaring “INTA.sucks”, Vox Populi returned to the INTA Annual Meeting this year. Of course, last year’s marketing activities came during the midst of its controversial trademark sunrise period, which caused fury with a large proportion of the trademark community due to the $2,499 price tag to register a trademark-related ‘.sucks’ domain. A year on, and ‘.sucks’ is now in general registration and much of the resentment appears to have died down. John Berard, CEO of Vox Populi, tells World Trademark Review that he was “excited about returning to INTA and, in effect, celebrating our first birthday”. He says that the focus for this year’s exhibit is promoting the brand’s “new national ad campaign and new logo”, adding: “As has been our practice, we are open to any and all compliments or criticism.” It is lucky they are, because a few attendees have not been afraid to share their criticism. For example, one IP lawyer made her feelings clear today in reply to one of our tweet, by labelling the company ‘extortionists’.

It appears, then, that Vox Populi has continued its streak of causing a stir with INTA attendees. Instead of condoms, the company is now offering free '.sucks' branded candy at its exhibition stand. However, most of the candy targets law firms, including Bird & Bird, Dentons, DLA Piper and Finnegans. Furthermore, there are also countless free '.sucks' T-shirts on offer, targeting subjects including ‘Volkswagen’, ‘Hillary’, ‘Trump’ and, of course, ‘This conference’. Vox Populi has a group of staff on hand making custom ‘.sucks’ T-shirts for delegates - so we’ll be keeping an eye out for ‘World Trademark Review.sucks’ T-shirts... (TL)

‘Not-so-distant threat’ of plain packaging - New to the exhibitor list this year is a booth dedicated to the ‘Slippery Regulation Slope’, hosted by tobacco company JT International. Promising to offer “a thought-provoking exhibition on the future regulation of consumer goods based on tobacco-style regulations”, the exhibit has interactive videogames based on the theme of plain packaging and some tangible examples of plain packaged products outside of the tobacco sector. Talking to World Trademark Review, JTI’s director of external communications, Jonathan Duce, told us that the main aim of the exhibition is to “raise awareness and educate not only the IP community but also their clients, because they are ultimately a key conduit in spreading the word to companies in other sectors”. Duce acknowledges that the ‘domino effect’ of plain packaging - namely that standardised packaging could begin with tobacco products and quickly spread to other product sectors - has been a tough sell. “The challenge is that precedences are being set now in tobacco that may seem quite distant to other businesses,” he explained. “For many, when you're looking at something that is more of a long-term issue, it's sometimes difficult to translate it into what can be done today. What we are trying to do here at INTA is demonstrate that things can be done today, and that decisions are being made today. This isn't an abstract idea or concept, it is something that is becoming a reality right now." (TL)

INTA newbie: observations from day one - One of the first things attendees will have noticed when arriving at the INTA Annual Meeting is how incredibly crowded the entryway to the exhibition hall was, even before the exhibitor booths were opened to the public. Before noon, hundreds of visitors were waiting at the different meeting points outside and inside the main hall. Many of those, including myself, were meeting a contact in person for the first time, so the only way to help identify someone is to look at the badges hanging at chest-level. But those names can be hard to spot in a very bustling crowd (and near-impossible for those with poor eyesight). I talked to many delegates who had waited upwards of half an hour for their meetings (while making awkward eye contact with other attendees), and often had no luck finding the person they were supposed to meet (especially for those who didn’t have a local phone number). Therefore, the main observation I had on my first day at the conference was whether INTA can do something to improve the way attendees arrange meetings; perhaps through a clearer badge design or an added feature on the official INTA 2016 app. (CL)

Stay tuned – Don’t forget you can keep up-to-date with the latest INTA Annual Meeting news and insights on our Twitter page. You can also view photos from the receptions visited by the World Trademark Review team on our Instagram page

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