Software & Online Services Team of the Year: Twitter
For Twitter’s head trademark counsel Stephen Coates, “growing pains” have been perhaps the biggest challenge he has faced over the past year. “I’m the first trademark counsel at Twitter and we are building a team and infrastructure from the ground up,” he explains. “It’s exciting and we get to start with a blank slate in many ways, but there is also a lot of legwork required.”
That team currently consists of Coates and senior global trademark, domain and brand manager Ali Buttars, who between them manage the company’s trademark, domain and marketing practices (a separate legal policy team handles trademark policy and complaints of third-party trademark use on the platform).
Starting from scratch has allowed Coates to shape Twitter’s approach to prosecution and enforcement. “It never feels like work,” he enthuses. “We love what we do and we like being around each other. We are doing our best to rethink how to run a trademark practice and be as innovative with the practice of law as our business is. It doesn’t get better than that.”
It also allows for greater agility and flexibility when it comes to trademark strategy: “This necessarily must change over time, reflecting not just the scope of the geography and goods and services you offer, but also how consumers engage in your brand.” Enforcement strategies also need to reflect the business: “Everything else flows out of that. We are an obsessively user-focused team and this guides our tone and approach in many of our enforcement matters.”
This laser focus on the business means that the department works in close collaboration with other corporate functions, such as marketing, sales and product development. The nature of Twitter’s platform also requires strong relationships with third-party users: “We have passionate developers that use the Twitter platform to create their own products and services. With so many enthusiastic Twitter users, a few try to trademark elements of our brands or misuse them in some way. So we spend a lot of time and energy educating these folks on how to use our brands, and when they should create and build equity in their own brand.”
Coates predicts that future challenges will likely arise from the increased internationalisation of the business: “As more and more of our user base comes from outside the United States, we will face greater misuse of our brand abroad and in new languages.” This will necessitate a nimble approach to enforcement, which “should reflect local custom and culture, where appropriate”.
And Coates acknowledges that these challenges cannot be overcome alone: “You also need an all-star team of global outside counsel who understand the brand and the business, and reflect the personality of your company. In some cases they are your sole representatives in these countries and you need people who can represent the business in a way that makes you proud.”
King Digital Entertainment