Lifetime Achievement Award: Barbara Kolsun
After receiving her award, Barbara Kolsun sat down with World Trademark Review to reflect on an illustrious career in the trademark world
How did you come to work in the trademark field?
After a federal clerkship and two law firm jobs as a commercial litigator, I landed a job at a patent and trademark firm and was assigned to Ralph Lauren enforcement work in 1988. I then spent six years doing trademark prosecution and enforcement, with a lot of infringement and anti-counterfeiting litigation for Ralph Lauren and other fashion and entertainment clients.
You then worked for a range of luxury and fashion brands. What would you say have been the personal highlights of your career?
Working for so many wonderful brands is definitely one – specifically Kate Spade, Seven For All Mankind, Stuart Weitzman, Calvin Klein Jeans and Westpoint Stevens (at a time when there was a robust US textile industry). I would also say defining fashion law through the first textbook, Fashion Law – A Guide for Designers, Fashion Executives and Attorneys (Bloomsbury), which was written and edited by me and Guillermo Jimenez, with chapters by lawyers who worked for fashion companies. This is now in its second edition and Guillermo and I are also finishing up the first Casebook on Fashion Law (Carolina Press).
Most satisfying, however, is the number of young lawyers I have mentored through my internship programmes (over 130 to date), teaching at Cardozo Law, NYU Law, Stern School of Business and Fordham Law, and other speaking and mentoring roles. Many lawyers in the fashion law bar were my interns, students or mentees, and I am still regularly sought out for advice and counsel. I hope that these mentees will pay it forward with the next generation of IP and fashion lawyers.
Staying in the world of teaching and the sharing of trademark expertise, has this environment changed significantly over the years?
It has. When I was in law school from 1979 to 1982, we had one course in intellectual property which covered patents, trademarks and copyrights – in one semester! The IP bar itself was based in patent law firms. Today, Cardozo Law alone offers many IP courses and we recently started a new programme called FAME (Fashion, Art, Media and Entertainment) to tie together our many offerings in these areas, mostly IP related.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge for brands in the trademark world in recent years?
China. The hunger for cheap apparel and goods blinded us to the enormous challenge of counterfeiting and infringement coming out of the country. Pirated trademarks and domain names, websites using our brand names and counterfeits – these are all problems which can only be solved at very high levels (ie, by trade organisations and governments), but are very frustrating for practitioners.
Looking back at your career, is there anything you would change if you had the opportunity?
I would have liked to be a federal judge or magistrate later in my career.
Finally, who would you say have been the greatest influences on your career?
My interns and students, who kept me fresh and learning and generous spirited and open.
Barbara Kolsun is general counsel of luxury brand Stuart Weitzman, where she established the company’s first in-house legal department. However, this was not her first such creation – prior to Stuart Weitzman, Kolsun served as senior vice president and general counsel of Seven For All Mankind LLC, where she similarly instituted the company’s first internal legal function. These are just two key achievements across a distinguished career. Her experience as a professional singer and actress in the 1970s gave her first-hand insight into the need to protect artists’ and designers’ IP rights; while subsequent roles focused on the fashion and luxury sectors. After clerking for the US Court of Appeals, Second Circuit and then working in private practice for 12 years, her in-house experience spanned stints at Kate Spade, WestPoint Stevens and Calvin Klein Jeanswear Co. Drawing on her experience in the sector, Kolsun co-conceived, co-edited and co-authored with FIT professor Guillermo Jimenez Fashion Law – A Guide for Designers, Fashion Executives, and Attorneys, the first textbook on fashion law. A frequent speaker on issues surrounding counterfeiting and trademark infringement, she has made significant contributions to the IP industry, chairing the board at the International Anti-counterfeiting Coalition and acting as a consultant on intellectual property in Vietnam as part of STAR-Vietnam, a USAID programme. In addition to her current role, Kolsun is an adjunct professor of fashion law at New York University and Benjamin N Cardozo Schools of Law (previously serving as an adjunct professor at Fordham Law School from 1986 to 1988 and in 2011).
2014 Miles Alexander, Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton
2013 Kimbley L Muller, Shell Oil Company
2012 Alan Drewsen, International Trademark Association
2011 Jerome Gilson, Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione
2010 Alexander von Muhlendahl, Bardehle Pagenberg Dost Altenburg Geissler
2009 Rhonda Steele, Mars
2008 Dee Ann Weldon-Wilson, ExxonMobil