By Trevor Little
May 07 2012
This year’s INTA annual meeting is the biggest yet. While final numbers are not yet in, as it stands more than 9,500 attendees have descended on Washington DC. Executive director Alan Drewsen took time out from a busy schedule to sit down with WTR and look back at the evolution of the event.
Drewsen is entering his final year as executive director of the association, a year that will see him recognised with a lifetime achievement award at the WTR Industry Awards (taking place tomorrow night) and induction into the IP Hall of Fame. Yet he won’t be taking his foot off the gas, as the association grapples with the big IP issues of the day.
Looking back at the past year, he identifies gTLDs, the debate over online piracy legislation that has raged on both sides of the Atlantic and the issue of trademark bullying as IP issues which have crossed over into the mainstream media, requiring careful policy focus. Crucially, echoing the sentiment voiced by Gregg Marrazzo, 2012 INTA president and 2012 INTA president and senior VP & deputy general counsel at The Estée Lauder Companies, in his opening address, he identifies the need to inform the dialogue over these issues: “We have seen the public attention to SOPA and PROTECT-IP in the US, and ACTA in Europe, and it is a bit of a new phenomena. But a lot of the opposition was based on some misperceptions - whether deliberately put out there or not – on how it would impact peoples’ internet experience. INTA – particularly with ACTA – has done what it can to clarify that but there is still a lot of misplaced opposition. Similarly, the trademark bullying issue has continued to get publicity and, once again, is based on a misunderstanding of what is involved in the enforcement of IP rights. There is no question that from time to time a brand owner will perhaps overreach in enforcement but it is not a trend by any means and there are many occasions when it is a small enterprise – or the infringer – which is using the system to its advantage.”
Ultimately, it comes back to education and engaging in full dialogue on trademark issues – something the INTA Annual Meeting was set up to facilitate. Looking back at how the meeting has changed since he joined INTA, the biggest difference is scale: “My first meet was Seattle in 1999 and we had around 5,000 delegates, so the numbers have doubled.”
He cites a number of factors which have driven this growth: “I think our corporate members are opening up new markets all the time. No matter what we say about harmonisation, IP law remains geographically based and as companies move into new jurisdictions, they need to maintain local counsel and that generates interest in the annual meeting. Our leadership is also leading this – plus each year we have a successful conference and word of mouth really helps - people say ‘I went to this conference, met these people, and have some new ideas for the business’, and that builds on previous successes.”
The scope of the event’s sessions have also naturally evolved, both to accommodate larger numbers and to reflect market trends: “For instance there wasn’t a lot of internet content in 1999 – in the fall of ‘98 we actually had a debate about whether we needed to have an internet committee. Now it seems obvious but at the time we had the discussion about whether internet issues could be discussed in other committees.”
Counterfeiting is also a bigger issue, the explosion in illicit activity driven by online infringement: “Counterfeiting has always been a scourge, but it is a much bigger problem now. There was less internet counterfeiting when I joined INTA but now its visibility, and the harm to consumers, have increased, with counterfeiters faking more kinds of product. It used to be focused predominately on luxury goods – now it is everything.”
All this leaves a range of challenges for Drewsen’s eventual successor – although he is confident that the organisations work will continue seamlessly: “Whoever comes in will have new ideas and approaches, but there is also a lot at INTA that is steady from year to year – we have good volunteer leadership, we have an active board and excellent people wanting to get on the board, and the committee work will continue. So while it will seem different to staff to have a new executive director, that newness will disappear very quickly. People will soon be asking ‘Alan who?’”
Whether that is the case or not, what he is sure about is that the unexpected will crop up and, like the internet in decades past, will require a speedy, resilient and evolving response.
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