Sports, Entertainment & Media Team of the Year: World Wrestling Entertainment
Lauren A Dienes-Middlen, vice president, legal and intellectual property at World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), expands on the team’s activities and offers some takeaways for counsel
Tell us about how the team is structured and the activities that keep it busy.
WWE’s IP team is part of the business and legal affairs department, located at WWE’s headquarters in Connecticut. We are a team of three – myself, along with a senior director attorney and a paralegal – and are responsible for trademark availability analyses as well as the filing, prosecution and maintenance of an ever-growing trademark portfolio. Our team also manages all opposition and cancellation proceedings worldwide, and we negotiate and draft worldwide consumer product licence agreements, product placement contracts, photographer agreements, model releases, non-disclosure agreements, IP settlement and co-existence agreements. We also review and provide guidance on all WWE’s licensed products, venue merchandise, advertisements, books, magazines, home video, pay-per-view key art, photographs and press releases.
Another important element of our day-to-day work is WWE’s enforcement programme. We actively monitor online piracy and process Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedowns, cease and desist notices for sale of counterfeit physical goods, domain name arbitrations, international market surveys and seizures and litigation before courts worldwide.
What are the likely future challenges that your company’s brands will face?
With new technologies emerging almost daily, it has become increasingly easy for people to share and distribute content. While WWE wants its fans to engage and to enjoy our content, we have to vigorously combat online video piracy with our cutting-edge digital vendors.
What sort of relationship does the trademark group have with the rest of the company?
It is essential that the trademark group be intimately involved with other departments in the company, and over the past 14 years that I have been with WWE we have worked hard to create and nurture these relationships. In order to be effective counsel for the rest of the company, we must first understand each business unit’s strategies and goals, so continuous learning is key. Legal advice cannot be provided in a vacuum, but must be based on an understanding of how that business can effectively incorporate that advice into its products and services. We have made great efforts to make sure that the business units understand that legal is not an obstacle to their creative processes, but rather a conduit that helps guide them while protecting the company and the work they are doing.
What would you say makes for a successful registration/prosecution strategy?
A successful trademark filing programme is based on many factors, each of which can vary from company to company, product to product and territory to territory. A good IP attorney needs to understand the needs and challenges of the respective company. For example, if your company is well known, it is likely that when you introduce a new product to the market, third parties will immediately file your trademarks in first to file jurisdictions; so you need to file your marks for products that you are currently making/selling and for those you have a bona fide intention of making. You also need to file in jurisdictions where you are currently manufacturing, selling and distributing your products; but also in jurisdictions where you have known counterfeit problems.
What enforcement tips would you give other counsel?
An in-house IP team needs to be sensitive to a company’s brand perception. It has to understand that in today’s world, even the most well-deserved cease and desist letter can become a PR challenge, and that sometimes a softer approach – or a phone call – is the wisest approach. It also has to understand where it needs to focus its efforts to achieve maximum results. It has to understand priorities. But perhaps most importantly – and this is something that is forever encouraged at WWE – it has to think outside the box and find new ways to accomplish its goals.
Finally, what do you think makes your trademark department so successful?
Passion. There are not many lawyers these days that still love what they do. I have been blessed to be able to say that I love what I do; but most importantly, I love where I do it. WWE is an incredible company – always cutting edge, always creative, always moving forward. I am glad to be along for the ride.