Food, Beverages and Tobacco Team of the Year: Lindt & Sprüngli AG
Maintaining a collaborative, meaningful relationship between the trademark and marketing functions is a challenge for many legal professionals – too often the former is regarded as a barrier to the execution of great ideas and launch of new names. However, at Chocoladefabriken Lindt & Sprüngli AG the trademark team supports marketing departments across the group and its success in relationship building with multiple creative stakeholders offers some important pointers for those struggling to break down these walls.
Nicholas Studler, head of intellectual property at the company, explains how his team has made it work. “First of all, we never say ‘no’ from the very beginning,” he explains. “My approach is to highlight risks and potential traps. I am showing possible alternatives and support those alternatives by informing about possible consequences and the impact if we do not overthink our plan. So if you offer a safer alternative having the business goal on your mind, then you can be a valuable partner for other departments.”
The trademark function strives to build bridges with all departments, aiming to make them feel comfortable reaching out to legal. “You cannot imagine how often I was asked for my personal opinion on potential product names or concepts because my marketing departments trust me as a person and a reliable partner,” he enthuses. “If your marketing department sees your input as value adding and not destructive, then they see no downside in getting your opinion. Still sometimes we would hope to be involved earlier in a project. Since fluctuation in marketing departments is rather high, training and coaching of marketing is crucial. If you manage to get your message across in an entertaining and not a dry ‘legal’ way, then working with marketing is not a big issue.”
The IP team is a lean one, comprising Studler and, for the past year, full-time paralegal Susanne Schindler. While there is additional support from an administrative assistant, a nimble and innovative approach is required to oversee a portfolio that spans 9,500 trademarks, around 500 designs and more than 2,100 domain names.
As to what has kept the team particularly busy over the past 12 months, in terms of prosecution the focus has been on “closing gaps due to international expansion”. When asked what factors contribute to a successful registration strategy, Studler states: “Choose the right asset (design versus trademark) for the right geography. Be consistent. Be persistent. Be flexible and try out new things (eg, technology or processes). Also, engage your outside counsel to participate in the discussion to find the best overall strategy for protection and defence of your important brands.”
Turning to enforcement, he explains that the emphasis has been on keeping up with developments (“especially online sales”) in China. Studler notes that the company’s enforcement approach is constantly evolving and points to a number of factors that have helped in this regard – in particular, a willingness to react to “trial and error” by adapting processes, as well as seeking different views on how to approach problems. He observes that this has meant that, over time, “we have found a series of good working and efficient processes that allow us to keep up with the evolving challenges, despite the small size of the team”.
This is not to say that size is a problem – Studler maintains that it can be an advantage. “We are very efficient,” he concludes, when asked what makes his team so successful. “We are brave and try new things on a regular basis. We listen to our partners, clients and colleagues. Probably also the small size, which often is seen as a challenge but may be a huge advantage as we can move and adjust our strategies very quickly.”