9 Jul
2020

Seizing opportunity in times of crisis: an ECTA update

  • ECTA celebrates 40th anniversary, despite plans affected by covid-19 pandemic
  • Association launches two new committees focused on data and international trade
  • Anette Rasmussen confirmed as president at June virtual meetings

It has been a turbulent time for the trademark industry, and associations have had to adapt their plans and activities to the covid-19 environment. In this exclusive guest piece, Carina Gommers, second vice president of the European Communities Trademark Association (ECTA), reflects on the organisation’s work, how it has responded to current global conditions and the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Guest analysis

This year marks ECTA’s 40th anniversary from the date of its establishment in 1980. Thus, 2020 is a year of celebration for the association. However, the celebrations have taken on a different form than anyone could have expected. The ECTA Annual Conference would have been an occasion to celebrate this anniversary and was supposed to take place in the beautiful city of Copenhagen. However, the covid-19 crisis prevented that from happening. As for many associations and, for the world as a whole, the last few months have been particularly difficult and we have all had to adapt our ways of life.

Adapting is indeed what ECTA has done. The conference in Copenhagen was not cancelled but postponed to 2022 and part of the conference took place online instead. Indeed, as I am writing this article from my home office, I look back at an intense few weeks of virtual ECTA meetings.

It would have been a pity if we had not been able to have ECTA meetings in some form in June. The Annual Conference is that moment in the year when attendees can participate in an educational programme to keep abreast of new developments. It is also an occasion for the ECTA council and board, as well as committee meetings, where members can discuss their ongoing projects, to present the results of their finalised projects and propose and embark upon new projects.

Inside the committee structure

The ECTA council and board, as well as the committees, are the forces driving the association forward. From the members’ perspective, working together with other committee members on projects is so much more than working on interesting and important projects from a legal perspective; it also provides opportunities to network with peers and colleagues in such a way that they become friends.  

There are currently 14 committees within ECTA, including the two recently established data and international trade committees (these latest additions were established during the June meetings and will be explored below). The committees each have different missions. First, there are several legal committees, such as those focused on anti-counterfeiting, copyright, designs, geographical indications, the Internet, and harmonisation and law. One can clearly infer from this list that the interest of ECTA and its members goes beyond trademarks, encompassing a broader outlook in the world of intellectual property.

In addition, there are two link committees connecting ECTA with the EUIPO and WIPO on a regular basis. ECTA also sets up ad hoc task forces when faced with new challenges. In this respect, it has set up both the Brexit and China task forces. Taking into account the work being done by these task forces, and in order to be able to follow up on IP matters with regard to international trade in a larger sense, the international trade committee has now been founded. The main task of this committee consists of closely following the European Union’s international trade negotiations from the perspective of intellectual property, in order to render ECTA’s views.

The second committee founded during the June meetings was the aforementioned data committee. The role and value of data increases constantly. Due to the covid-19 crisis, ECTA members can – as professionals and experts in the world of intangible property – play an important role in the debate regarding data and make valuable contributions to this discussion, providing clear and practical solutions to the questions raised and the dilemmas faced with respect to such data. The main tasks of this committee will be to analyse developments in the field of data and to closely follow legislative developments in the European Union and third countries.

Building a pool of expertise

ECTA also has its own publications committee, which is responsible for the ECTA Bulletin, distributed to members on a regular basis. To celebrate ECTA’s 40th anniversary, the publications committee has published a special anniversary ECTA Bulletin, which will be sent to ECTA members, providing insights into some of the highlights of the association’s work and its history.  

A novel challenge and opportunity lie ahead for this and other committees, since a new communication strategy was also adopted in June. The strategy was drafted by then second vice president and now first vice president Mladen Vukmir. It will be a useful guideline to better reach the IP community at large and will hopefully inspire new initiatives. One of the major projects of this new communication strategy is to create a pool of contributors, comprised of experts in different fields of intellectual property. The aim is to provide the IP community with a higher number of quality content offerings on recent legislation, policy developments and case law. Such content will be published on the ECTA website and social media. The pool will reflect ECTA’s policy of being a network for free-thinking professionals, who wish to express themselves on relevant IP topics using our platform. As an open, vibrant and welcoming community, we will also encourage non-members to become part of the pool and to contribute to the ECTA Bulletin and upcoming webinars and podcasts.

Finally, there are two association committees: the professional affairs committee and the membership and disciplinary committee. The professional affairs committee provides information and guidelines regarding the trademark and design profession in Europe. The membership and disciplinary committee, for its part, develops and improves the association’s educational programmes for ECTA members. The committee is also responsible for reviewing new member applications and for the enforcement of ECTA’s Ethical Code of Conduct.

As can be inferred from the above, our committee work spans a broad range of interesting IP rights issues. In 2021 ECTA will hold elections for committee members, so if reading this has enthused you on one of the above matters, I would recommend signing up for your committee of interest.  

Adapting the Annual Conference

Turning back to the Annual Conference, two learning sessions from the programme were presented in the form of webinars for both ECTA members and non-members. The first dealt with new technologies in the world of intellectual property. New technologies such as blockchain and AI will become increasingly important in the future both in portfolio management and in the enforcement of rights. The second webinar concerned parallel imports in the pharmaceutical sector, where insights were given from an industry perspective. Taking into account the success of these webinars, the level of attendance and the positive feedback received, ECTA is already organising more webinars on other relevant IP topics to be held later this year.

In June ECTA also held online elections for the council and board, which are the elected bodies fully representing membership. Council and board members are elected for a two-year term and may serve for four consecutive terms. Therefore, during the online council and board meetings, new council and board members were welcomed while other members were rotated off, in order to take a break from more active work or to take up other positions within the association.

All committee meetings were also organised online. From the high level of participation and the feedback received, it appears that members truly appreciated the fact that ECTA had taken the opportunity to adapt to the new situation and had not cancelled the conference.

Leadership changes

This year also marks the ECTA presidency changeover and management rotation. Sozos-Christos Theodoulou led the association for the last two years, demonstrating outstanding commitment and dedication. Anette Rasmussen has now taken over as ECTA president and will provide the strategic direction and overall supervision for the coming years. She is assisted by first vice president Mladen Vukmir, who is responsible for the educational programmes of the next two annual conferences and by me as second vice president. I was elected by the council and board during the online meeting and I am truly honoured to join the management team. It is the task of the second vice president to manage ECTA committee activities. Having been a member of several committees in recent years, and most recently serving as the secretary of the ECTA anti-counterfeiting committee, I know first-hand what working in a committee entails. Last but not least, Carolin Kind and Jordi Güell will remain in their roles of secretary general and treasurer, respectively.  

Finally, ECTA held the Annual General Meetings, which were also particularly well attended. During these meetings, members were presented with an overview of the most recent ECTA activities, including several bilateral meetings with delegates from the European Commission, the EUIPO and WIPO. The president also referred to the ECTA ®ETREAT held in March in Brussels, during which a panel of speakers discussed the balance between IP rights and freedom of speech. This theme ties in perfectly with ECTA’s slogan of ‘Caring for a balance of IP rights’. This was also the last physical event that ECTA organised before the covid-19 pandemic forced most of us to become confined to our homes. Since then, step by step, meetings and events have been taking place online, culminating in June’s virtual meetings.

As Albert Einstein said: “In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity.” Looking back at the virtual meetings, I can only conclude that ECTA seized the opportunity created by the current crisis, demonstrating how agile the organisation is, thanks to the readiness of all members (whatever their role) to adapt to a different format than the one initially planned. ECTA members are truly invested in the association. This explains its success and means that it is in even better shape for the future. I am happy to be part of this ECTA family and look forward to many more interesting events in the online and offline world.

In any event, we have already marked our calendars for next year’s Annual Conference in Vienna. The conference will take place from 23 to 26 June 2021 and we hope to see many old friends, as well as new faces, for what promises to be an interesting and inspiring conference under the theme of ‘Waltzing with IP’. So, don’t forget your dancing shoes when you join us next year!

Carina Gommers

Second Vice President | The European Communities Trademark Association