Embracing change; global blockchain trademark register; approaching brand valuation – INTA 2020 update

Over 3,000 IP professionals from across the globe are this week attending this year’s INTA Annual Meeting from their home or office, with a full programme of sessions and table topics on offer for attendees. The WTR team is on the (virtual) ground, and you can chat with them at the WTR exhibit on the event’s online platform. Meanwhile, our roving reporters – Trevor Little (TL) and Tim Lince (TJL) – present a round-up of event highlights and observations. Here’s what caught our attention from the first couple of days of proceedings…

Time to embrace change – In her welcome speech, opening this year”s Annual Meeting, 2020 president Ayala Deutsch presented a series of lessons that she derived from articles written by her father when he was editor-in-chief of his school magazine. For instance, she pointed to a letter he wrote to the student body and staff about editorial challenges faced by the team, noting that “while it was evident he was disappointed he was unapologetic, and instead of complaining he offered suggestions… and chose to see the value in all experience”. Crucially, she noted that this also means striving to “always look at how we can improve in our roles”, adding that the pandemic is a terrible development but there are positives to be drawn out of it, such as learning new skills. In terms of how INTA is helping in this personal development effort, she pointed to this year’s presidential taskforce, which is focused on how to develop all-star IP practitioners, noting that it “has identified substantive and dynamic skillsets that will help propel IP practitioners forward in their career trajectories”. The taskforce is is currently working on a plan to present to the association outlining how it will leverage the available tools, best practices and content. Ultimately, it is all about positively embracing change. She concluded: “Real, meaningful change starts with us. To wait for change is to be complacent. With so much upheaval this year and so much at stake, the need for change has never been greater… [but] it has to start with ourselves.” (TL)

Time for a global blockchain trademark register? – In a discussion titled ‘Blockchain: A Strategic IP Tool for Protection, Development and Competition’, Bennett Collen of GoDaddy.com explored the possible use of blockchain by trademark registries -or indeed the creation of a single global registry. The benefits of such an approach include the ability to generate highly credible timestamps (“you can have a ‘trustless’ system where you don’t have to trust a third party in their claims that they have used a trademark since a certain date or in a certain jurisdiction or a certain way – the  underlying technology makes it so that the timestamp is verifiable cryptographically and mathematically”). Additionally it allows for more complete records (“if there is one centralised record for all of the activity around a trademark, and you know that is where you need to go to find things like proof of first use or use in a certain jurisdiction, all of the pieces of information can be linked to one blockchain-based record seamlessly and all in one place”). So how likely is this to happen? There are barriers, Collen pointing to the need for coordination between trademark offices, as well as challenges around technical implementation and resourcing. The future could be blockchain, but we are not there yet. (TL)

Turning the tables with livestream technology – On WTR we have reported at length about the use of livestream technology to market and sell counterfeit goods in China. However, the technology is not only used by bad actors, as Michael Liu, of Hylands Law Firm revealed in a discussion titled ‘Influencer Marketing: Dead or More Alive Than Ever?’. He explained that the People’s Courts in China have used the technology to sell off seized assets – one example being a live auction hosted by the Ningdo Intermediate People’s Court hosting a live online auction.  Liu observed: “The turnover exceeded RMB100 million in just one hour.” There is something satisfying in knowing that the very technology used by infringers can also be used by the authorities to sell their assets. (TL)

Controlling the talent – In one of the first main sessions of the Annual Meeting, practitioners looked at one of the game-changers for brands in the past decade: social media. The prevalence of social media platforms in most people’s lives – especially the younger generations – has fundamentally changed how brands are perceived, claimed speaker Alexander Bayer, partner in the Munich office of Pinsent Masons, with the “purpose, ideas, and values” linked to a company now more important than ever before. For trademark practitioners, he added, it requires overseeing social media activity – especially as, compared to old school advertising campaigns, the results (or outcry) can be swift. “With social media, you get instant feedback – and the wave can hit you in a good or a bad way,” he said. In fact, likes are like the new dollars – and if there are boos or cheers, brands need to look at that.” However, it isn’t just corporate brand social media use that is on the radars of trademark counsel, so too are a company’s employees. Perhaps the best example of that is World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), which has hundreds of wrestlers that work under the WWE banner. The company’s senior vice president and assistant general counsel - intellectual property, Lauren Dienes-Middlen, spoke at length in the session about the various controls and agreements she has in place with WWE talent (a topic that hit the headlines recently after WWE boss Vince McMahon reportedly informed WWE talent that their accounts on streaming account Twitch would soon be owned by WWE). Of course, while brand damage can occur on employee social media accounts, an even worse situation can arise from accounts that fraudulently pose as employees. Indeed, impersonation accounts of famous wrestlers (and McMahon himself) is also a headache that Dienes-Middlen must deal with: “Thankfully, we’ve been able to successfully remove them, but not without some work from Twitter or Facebook. However, if they claim that they’re purely fan based or fan accounts, these accounts can be very difficult to take down.” (TJL)

Brand valuation and evaluation: choosing the right approach – A session on understanding brand valuation, and the new concept of brand evaluation, explored how the new ISO Standard on Brand Evaluation (ISO 20671) factors into the overall valuation of brands. Bobby Calder, of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, noted that a brand has two dimensions – the identity of the product or service (underpinned by trademarks, among other things) and the promise of what will be delivered to and experiences by the consumer. It is the consumer’s experience of the brand that adds value to the brand-identified product. In terms of the distinction between brand valuation and evaluation, then, he noted that financial brand value is the monetary value of the brand as an intangible asset. Meanwhile, “brand evaluation, while related, is the value of the brand as an asset in business use for an entity”.  The two are closely related but ISO 20671 is focused on what to measure from a marketer’s perspective, whereas the brand valuation standard (ISO 10668) is focused on what to measure from a financial perspective. Or to put it another way, Brand Finance’s Gabriela Salinas noted that brand evaluation is the measurement of the strength of a brand rather than its ‘value’. The two can be quite different. Salinas explained: ‘Brand value is the economic monetary value of the brand and not the subjective opinion of customers and clients on the brand, which is what we call brand equity. This, in turn, is often conflated with brand strength.” In the most recent Brand Finance research Amazon was the world’s most valuable brand, but dropped to fourteenth place in the list of the strongest brands. Ultimately, both are useful tools and the approach taken will depend on what it is you are seeking to measure, and for what purpose. (TL)

Stay tuned – Don’t forget you can keep up-to-date with the latest INTA Annual Meeting news and insights on the WTR Twitter feed.

Unlock unlimited access to all WTR content