Not-for-Profit Organisation Team of the Year: The National Association of Realtors

Roxanne Elings of Davis Wright Tremaine (right) presents the award to the National Association of Realtors team

For many counsel, the advent of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) has been a brand protection challenge. For the National Association of Realtors (NAR), it was an opportunity – both for the organisation and for the legal team – to further align its efforts with its mission and strengthen trademark protection online.

Chloe Hecht, associate counsel, observes: “NAR’s ‘.realtor’ TLD is an excellent example of the organisation evolving along with members’ methods of leveraging the Realtor brand (within the parameters of NAR’s trademark rules, of course). Most members’ marketing plans focus on a heavy online presence and NAR worked for over seven years to create an online space exclusively for its members. In fact, ‘.realtor’ is the only new TLD reserved exclusively for a membership. We work closely with the ‘.realtor’ team to ensure that the REALTOR marks are protected in conjunction with the TLD. NAR validates all domain registrations and renewals to ensure that domains are only licensed by active members. Domains are also flagged for trademark review to ensure proper use of the REALTOR marks.”

The REALTOR marks themselves are collective membership marks, with NAR’s members licensed to use them. Enforcing and promoting collective membership marks presents unique challenges for the legal team, which works closely with other stakeholders to ensure that the value of the brand is preserved and that the trademarks are used effectively in marketing materials. Hecht adds: “We also strive to educate members about proper use of the REALTOR marks.”

While the membership model adds complexity to the trademark team’s efforts to preserve brand integrity, it also requires the legal function to ensure that it is tracking new marketing and business trends so that it can offer tailored advice to members. Hecht expands: “NAR’s members must adapt their marketing strategies to how consumers engage real estate property searching. And we expect our enforcement strategies to evolve in tandem with the real estate industry’s marketing practices. Most recently, an online presence has become a vital part of the real estate professional’s marketing plan, so NAR’s enforcement efforts have focused on the Internet and social media. We are also incorporating more educational tactics in our enforcement strategy. When we communicate with someone misusing NAR’s REALTOR marks, we hope that person walks away knowing not only that his or her use was improper, but also why that use was improper.”

In term of brand protection, local associations are also deemed to have a crucial role to play, adding another layer of nuance: “Local associations often have more direct contact with members than NAR, so they are on the front lines of educating members about the brand and identifying misuses. So we create and maintain resources that aid associations to undertake any enforcement efforts, such as educational materials and template letters.”

The trademark team is located in NAR’s Chicago headquarters and, in addition to Hecht, includes Katie Johnson (general counsel), Ralph Holmen (assistant general counsel) and Mary Newill (trademark administrator). When asked what makes the group – which oversees a portfolio spanning 60 jurisdictions – so successful, Hecht suggests: “We use an aggressive but thoughtful enforcement strategy. We actively challenge identified trademark misuses, but we are flexible in our approach. A friendly phone call may be more effective than a cease and desist letter, while another matter may require a formal letter from our outside counsel.”

Other nominees:

American Red Cross

Rotary International

The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH

United States Olympic Committee

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