Travel and Leisure Team of the Year: Expedia Group

Locke Lord’s Ben Hitches (right) makes the presentation to the Expedia Group team

Accompanied by the unveiling of a new logo, Expedia Group underwent a major rebrand in early 2018. Needless to say, the task has kept the wheels of the trademark team turning at full speed. In particular, searching and clearance have been a significant focus.

Commenting on the global rebrand, Michael Graham, group director of the company’s IP division, states: “Because Expedia Group is a global company, providing technical tools and features to make travel more accessible and easy to arrange, it means that our clearance efforts must be global in nature. Coordinating the efforts of our team with the searches and expertise of our outside counsel in the United States and worldwide was our greatest challenge.”

Critically, he highlights that the team’s years of experience with a vast network of counsel meant that the travel company’s goals and approach to brand building were easily understood. He adds: “We were also able to engage with Expedia Group’s business, public relations and tax teams from the earliest stages of the process to build an understanding of our process and our concerns, so they were baked into the process, and not merely hurdles.” Consequently, the team was able to devise an IP registration and roll-out strategy that ensured rights were secured in time, without the risk of jeopardising the new brand.

In addition to overseeing daily trademark-related work, Graham adopts a bigger-picture perspective on the company’s IP policies and procedures, and assists in business development efforts. He has also been proactively involved in the ICANN world – the company “engaged in efforts to improve rights protection mechanisms to prevent misuse of trademarks in the domain name space”. He expands: “Because of the nature of Expedia Group’s online travel business and presence, the development and maintenance of a safe, secure and consumer-friendly domain name system is of utmost importance.” While he notes that ICANN demands a tremendous amount of time and attention, he believes that his participation has dovetailed nicely with the team’s evolving domain name and enforcement strategies.

It makes for a heavy workload though, and the team tasked with rising to these challenges includes senior paralegals Christy Hurley and Jennifer Bollen, each wielding more than 20 years’ experience. Together, they are responsible for overseeing the company’s plethora of trademark and domain name portfolios, in addition to reviewing adverts and press releases for compliance and trademark use. Recently added corporate counsel Krista Mirhoseini provides vital support too. With a wealth of experience in copyright, licensing and enforcement work, she directs the team’s responses to contentious matters and carefully reviews IP provisions on the licensing front.

“I believe the extensive experience and collective expertise of our team members and commitment to supporting our business efforts both power our success,” Graham avers, adding: “Our ability to work together and with our outside counsel as a team to provide the best possible services to our business team is vital to our success.”

Expanding on what makes for a robust prosecution strategy in particular, he stresses that the key is working closely with the business to understand its plans and goals when using a specific trademark, including the geographic scope of its planned use, the competitors that it may come up against and the duration of a particular campaign.

Meanwhile, the secret ingredient for a winning enforcement strategy is: “establishing clear limits to permissible use of our marks by affiliates and partners, and refusing to suspend these limits. At the same time, it is essential for us to explain the reasons for our enforcement to our partners so they understand how protecting our brands enables them to benefit from their goodwill. Working closely with our outside counsel to convey our values and establishing a means for escalating challenges as necessary are also important.” For the team, these relationships with other stakeholders are central to success. “We are more actively engaging our employees and partners in monitoring and reporting misuse of our numerous brands,” Graham adds.

The team’s efforts both support and are supported by the company’s management, who truly understand the importance of the brand as a driver of business. “Expedia Group has long been the leader in the online travel world,” Graham observes. “We have more recently focused greater business and legal efforts on becoming a leader in online technology, powering not only our own branded online travel sites, but the myriad sites and resources used by hotels, vacation rentals and destination attractions worldwide. We view our brands, content and technology as vital elements of these efforts, and our team strives to provide best-in-class services in support of all these efforts.”

  

Other nominees:
  • Airbnb

  • Hard Rock International

  • InterContinental Hotels Group

  • Wyndham Worldwide

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