Healthcare & Life Sciences Team of the Year: Eli Lilly and Company

After the awards ceremony, World Trademark Review sat down with Bruce Longbottom, assistant general counsel, trademarks, copyrights and information technology at Eli Lilly and Company, to reflect on the past year and look to the future.

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Robert MacDonald, Marion Bailey-Canham, Jennifer Morton and Christopher Pibus from Gowlings present the award to Bruce Longbottom (second from left)

Tell us about your trademark team and the portfolio you look after.

Our trademark team is based at Lilly’s corporate headquarters in Indianapolis, United States. We have two trademark attorneys (a third joined us on contract earlier this month), two associates for filing and prosecution, one associate for trademark development and searching (another joined us earlier this month), one database steward and one administrative assistant. Our portfolio is approximately 20,000 active trademark records globally.

What sort of relationship does the trademark group have with the rest of the company?

We recognise that marketing is our primary client, although we interact with many other areas (eg, regulatory, patient safety, corporate affairs, security). We work to maintain good relationships with marketing and others by holding regular meetings with them (either biweekly or monthly) and, as issues arise, those meetings provide an opportunity for open discussion and collaboration. Although differences of opinion of course arise, we have found that trust and a good working relationship go a long way towards reaching resolutions that are best for Lilly.

What has kept your team busy over the last year?

Starting last year and carrying over to this year, we have been very busy with Lilly’s acquisition of the Novartis animal health business. Integrating those thousands of trademarks into our system has been a significant challenge for our team involving IT systems, prosecution, renewal, watching and enforcement of those new marks.

What makes for a successful prosecution strategy?

We try to follow the ‘Golden Rule’ by considering how we would like to be treated if Lilly were on the other side of a dispute or negotiation. Of course, we could encounter that company or examining attorney again in the future, so hopefully they will treat us the same way at that time.

How are your enforcement strategies evolving?

We continue to see the Internet as a major challenge to our trademarks. There are an estimated 35,000 online pharmacies (not counting fly-by-night spammers), of which at most only 2,000 are legitimate. Most counterfeit and illegal medicines come into the United States and European Union in small packages sent through the mail in fulfilment of internet orders. We try to partner with other companies and organisations to monitor and enforce our trademarks online (including in social media, apps and in new generic top-level domains), and to look for long-term progress which benefits not only our industry, but more importantly patient safety.

What are the likely future challenges for the protection of your company’s brands?

In the pharmaceutical industry, we continue to encounter significant challenges from the drug regulatory agencies that review and approve the trademarks that we seek to use to identify our drugs. Some progress has been made (eg, in the United States); but in other countries (eg, Canada and Mexico), we are encountering well-meaning agencies imposing requirements in the name of avoiding medication errors, which are not validated and in some cases give rise to questionable rejections. This makes attainment of the same trademark globally more difficult, which in turn negatively affects patients and others who would benefit from having a global brand.

How does your team distinguish itself from other in-house teams in your sector?

We are the most humble team! We are the very best at being humble – no one does humility better! Seriously, though, we are smaller than most of the other in-house teams in our sector. We rely on teamwork and cooperation. And although our profession is very serious, we try not to take ourselves too seriously. Humour helps!

Other nominees:

Gilead Sciences

GlaxoSmithKline

Merck & Co

Novartis Pharma AG

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